Silent Hill Homecoming

October 22nd 2012

First Impressions

 

Silent Hill Homecoming - replaying in the spirit of Halloween.

I'm playing through silent hill homecoming for the first time in years. the basic idea is that i do generally love the silent hill series and have completed SH1 (seminal horror classic) SH2 (phenomenal psychological thriller) and SH3 (a violent return to the horror series roots of the original), though i did not manage to complete the room or subsequent games.

The reason I mention this is that i'm going back because i do remember enjoying the game but letting niggles over come me. So, before i review the actual game, here are my impressions of the game the first time round.

1. the noninverted y axis

For some reason you can invert the aiming Y axis but not the camera Y axis. so, yep, for the cross eyed, you can have one view inverted, then as soon as you aim, have it the other way round. why, i dont know. bottom line, its basically better to play both the other (wrong) way round, at least it is consistent. in a the first releasefor SH on the ps3, its a shame.

2. the plot is either slow developing or thin at best.

I remember the plot being very underdeveloped, with the first portion of the game having you do the point a to point b and slowly build up your supplies while meeting minor fairly random characters. I'm actually enjoying the slow burn this time round - it feels more like a game taking its time to introduce the plot than one keen to frighten you asap. That said, it does allow you to cut up a female nurse with a combat knife and smash a hideous monster in the face with a lead pipe. good times.

3. the game is just different.

The last SH game i completed was SH3, which was combat heavy, mostly with guns. However, it was also slower paced than in SH-H, it was more akin to the traditional survival horror game whereas here we get a game that actively encourages close encounters melee combat from the get go. I like it, mostly, but it is somehow less satisfying than in previous games. Taking down monsters always felt tough and threatening, where as here it seems more like the path you are meant to take, rather than avoid.

So thats my previous impression, mixed in with my current experience. I like the game, am enjoying it and sort of looking forward to seeing how the slow plot plays out, but i cant help but feel the games setting and design will look too different to what i love about the originals for it to feel like a great next step for the series.

I'll see though - will be completing it before Halloween is the plan.

Lee

***

Review

I just completed SH Homecoming (SH-H) and I've quite a lot I want to say about the game, both good and bad. The interesting thing about SH-H is that its got some really fantastic components and the art design is absolutely first rate, but unfortunately each of the main components of the game have pretty glaring problems with it.

 

In fact,on occasions these are so frustrating that all sense of immersion with the game (crucial, in the SH series) is totally lost. I'm going to write about 2 things in particular -firstly the 3 different elements of the game play and secondly the part that holds them all together, the story and the setting.

1. The Combat

The first and most obvious game play element is the fact that this game plays a tremendous emphasis on combat - both melee and ranged. The game suggests, in the early stages at least, mastering combat will be critical to success. You are introduced to A LOT of different types of monsters that require you to not only switch between different weapons, but also learn how to use them effectively. The catch is that in the early stages the combat is rendered very difficult by two things - 1. your crappy weapons and 2. the crappy camera. Both points are closely linked.

The weapons themselves lack any sense of character - your guns are generic - handgun (quick but low power), shotgun (powerful but ammo limited) and then your range of melee weapons. While the early combat is tense as you are learning to use the weapons effectively, early exchanges are ruined by the ropey camera and the fact that it takes an age to dispatch even the most simple of monster. In fact, the combat suggests that it is deep and rewarding, with combos, heavy and quick attacks and execution moves. Combine this with the range of weapons you are given (axe / pipe / knife / axe) all have their own strengths and weaknesses. So far, so good.However, about 1hr into the game, problems rear their ugly head.
Additionally, it is rarely obvious what the most effective weapon to use is - the knife works incredibly well against the nurses in the first instance, then is totally useless about an hour later and you are forced to use a heavier (and slower) weapon to dispatch them. This of course led to me dying multiple times and having to replay the same area where, by process of elimination (i.e. fighting through the same area 5 times) to arrive at the right weapon. Frustrating, but not unforgivable. However, when you combine this with the dreadful camera that makes it basically impossible to see what you are doing in melee combat, the whole experience becomes a massive pain in the ass as you blindly button mash in the hope of killing a monster you had no problem killing in the first 5 minutes of the game.

If the combat was in anyway satisfying, you'd let it slide, but there is no reward what so ever in killing anything. Then, the last 2/3rds of the game generally contain environments that actually make it easier to run away than fight - so you suddenly end up with a very frustrating combat system that you could master, but the game design makes it so easy to run away that i ended up ignoring the closed combat, and just ignored most non critical enemies.

Other gripes? oh yes. firstly, the boss fights are for the most parts just like fighting normal enemies 1 on 1 that are slightly harder to kill - this removes any sense of accomplishment when you do defeat a boss. Secondly, the game rarely has more than 2 enemies at a time to deal with (in fact, i can only think of 3 occasions where you had 3 enemies on screen at any point in time, and all these were set pieces). This leaves the combat feeling very light weight and non essential when the game was clearly designed to be more combat focused than others. Compare this with RE5 - it went balls out on the action and forgot the suspense. SH-H tries for both but its combat is not tight enough or rewarding enough to feel core to the game and I was left with a sense of bemusement that a game that seemingly places such emphasis on combat in its early stages just lost interest in making it interesting or challenging as the game progresses.

2. Puzzles

Puzzle solving has long been a core part of SH gameplay and is generally present and correct here. The puzzles are generally good and indeed challenging. However, they do vary between interesting (work out how to rearrange a jigsaw) to cryptic (i dont know how you would solve some without a guide).

So, all good with puzzles? Well, not really. Firstly, the puzzles generally are few and far between and when you do come across one, it feels more like an afterthought by the designers (i.e. we've gone 1hr without a puzzle - lets chuck one in) and by the end of the game you actually see the same type of puzzle recycled - there is a real lack of imagination and it does hurt the flow of the game.

3. Exploration

Put simply, SH-H does a good job initially at making you feel like you are exploring an interesting world. However, its actually very limited. The first half of the game has you wandering around the same parts of shepherds glen (not even silent hill!) and retracing your steps through the same (graphically fantastic) areas. At no point did i feel like i was exploring the mystery of the town, more i was tracing the steps the game creators wanted me too. While its not massively linear, at the end of the day you still have to tick the boxes (ie visit certain areas) before the game progresses (many of the areas / houses are just blocked off or inaccessible).

On the upside, the areas you do get to visit are genearlly amazing looking. The designers put alot of effort into the grain effect that the camera has throughout the game and it always looks excellent - and very silent hill.

***

The Plot

The plot is actually very good, but so underdeveloped in the early stages that it is incredibly tough to connect with the characters and setting. In fact, I'd say that except for the last 1hr of the game, i didnt care at all about the characters. It was only when the protagonist got to SH that it got interesting. For me, it was too little too late - by this point i wanted the game to be over. Even those scences that do have some interesting plot developments are either very short or convoluted that it i was left with a real sense of boredom in the first half and frustrationm by the end. For example, the last "boss" in the game is seemingly totally unconnected to the previous bosses and lacks any meaning or connection to the main character, despite all previous bosses having some relevance. I just played it and thought "right- thats that then".

There are some stand out moments, and I'll not spoil them, but needless to say, they are all around the family of the main character. This is the stand out point of the game - the influence of SH on not just one person, but an entire family raises interesting questions about morality, priority (family vs self) and actually empowers the player to make decisions about the fate of certain characters. This is fantastic - and what SH should be about, but then other characters exist to be killed or just die and again the game mis-steps horribly in some key moments (specifically, reintroducing a random character as a "boss" at the end of the game who can be killed with 6 pistol bullets - the design just made no sense.

So, there are good and bad points to the main game play elements, but i was left with the overriding feeling that the game wanted to be an action game but because it was a silent hill game, they couldn't go balls out and make it as exciting as they wanted. However, this actually hurts the game - it looks like a silent hill game but simply doesn't play like one due to the lack of exploration and emphasis on combat. All in all, it makes for a very frustrating experience - I was left feeling that it could have been so much more.

There are a number of other points that i need to mention as it would do the game a disservice if i didn't.
Firstly, the game definitely improves massively about half way through when you get the chance to not bother fighting. Frankly, combat became frustrating and hurts the pacing, tension and feel of the game and being able to ignore it really helps.

Secondly, there are some moments of genius - the plot definately has its moments and the settings are, as i say, always excellent looking and alot of effort has been made to ensure the game looks first rate. Also, the plot develops slowly, but the last 30 mins of the game are very interesting as the truth about the charcater and his family is revealed. Pure SH hokum, but nicely ambiguous and horrific in places (with one exception, mentioned below...)
My 3rd point is that the game makes one horrible mis step - the character does not even get to silent hill (the town) until the last 1/3rd of the game and you spend a very short time actually on the streets of SH - in fact you are only in 2 areas really, and one of them is small (power plant) and the other for the end of the game (prison). This really, really hurts it - shepherds glen is a nowhere town with no back story and no real emotional attachment for the players. While they do try and build up this attachment, all the big reveals about shepherds glen actually happen after you leave it and so, the whole 6 hrs i spent wandering around shepherds glen felt rather dull.

So, there are some big problems with the fundamental design of the game and the "ending" is laughable. After beating the final boss i got a 30 second finishing sequence that left me totally cold - sure the plot is understated, but as i got the "good ending", i expected a bit more in the way of explanation and round up than the 30 second feel good sequence i got.

There are lots of other things i could talk about - the lousy QTE's, the amazing soundtrack, the buggy nature of the game, the complete lack of terror / suspense at any point, the strange decision to pair you with NPC's for portions of the game that neither require you to defend or interact with them beyond opening doors together and the really interesting back story that is understated throughout. Honestly, there really is so much wrong and right with this game that it is a bit of an enigma.

However, for me at least, the frustrations outweighed the positives. Too often did i feel like i was playing on rails to get from a to b and this sucked all tension from the game.

There was one other design choice i wanted to call out, and it is a positive and negative both. The designers decided very early on that the story would built around the SH1 / SH3 / SH0 and SH movie guise. This works really well - the otherworld transitions are incredible, there are great nods to the previous games and, on occassions, the game really does feel like it falls in nicely with SH lore. I loved these moments, but they are few and far between.

The negative side of this is that the otherworld is criminally underused, usually only before you fight a boss. This has the double edged sword of racking up tension early on, but by the end of the game, the otherworld transitions make you automatically look for a save point as you know something nasty is coming - this completely saps all suspense from the transition and left me rather cold.

***

So there you have it - in downpour, there is a great game waiting to burst out. Unfortunately, though the design is excellent the game becomes less than the some of its parts through poor combat, a real lack of exploration and a lack of suspense. Its such a shame - I'm glad i completed it, but not so glad the way the game panned out as it felt like a pretty flimsy way to spend 10hrs of my life.

Lastly, the lack of trophies, weapon / character development and sense of dread mean that I'll not be returning to this anytime soon, whereas i'd be happy to go back and complete SH1 /2 / 3 anytime.

All in all, a solid 6 out of 10 game, but should have been so much more - the raw materials are there, but the game didn't manage to pull it off.

D

 

Uncharted 2

October 7th 2012

I completed Uncharted 2 yesterday, after playing it over a period of around 3 months. I never really got totally into the game and by the end of it I really was just playing it to finish the game, rather than out of some sense of great enjoyment of it. In fact, you could pretty much cut and copy my Uncharted 1 review, amend a couple of points (the game is a bit longer, a bit more cinematic and a bit more exciting on occasions) and you'd have a fairly accurate review. This makes giving a verdict very easy - if you enjoyed the first uncharted (i did), you'll enjoy Uncharted 2, just dont expect anything terribly ground breaking or different. So yes, i did enjoy the game, but dont have many terribly interesting things to say about it, though there were a couple of points I did want to make on the general design of the game...

 

1. Uncharted 1 + More sexualisation + more cinematic action

Basically, Uncharted2 is the same game as the first, identical game mechanics (combat and climbing) with the same type of puzzles (visual, with use of your log book) and big bombastic action sequences. The 2 new additions as far as I can tell are the increased references to sex and the more regular interspersing of semi playable cinematic action seqeunces. On the former, i dont have any problem with the more frequent references to sex and the sexyness of characters - in fact it gives the game a real human streak to it that maintains a lighthearted angle on a quite melodramatic story. For the most part it works well and also adds depth to Drakes character, though i did have one gripe. Basically, instead of the 1 girl Drake is trying to impress in the 1st game, there is a second 'femme fatale' type character who drifts in and out of the game as an associate and part time antagonist. This left me with the underlying feeling that it'd have been less obvious that they wanted this character in to provide eye candy had they not had quite so many references to her shapely figure, but as every time she is on screen, it feels like we're getting a gratitious arse shot or some sort of quip about her figure, it left me a feeling this aspect of the game was contrived.

Regarding the cinematic action sequences, I always had fun with them. These typically take the shape of the camera zooming out to show you the panaromic view of the often spectacular area your running across /blowing up and they really maintain the flow of the game. Yes there are standard typical video sequences, but there is enough variety in them and they are generally quite short. When you combine these with the ingame action sequences, the games fun and agressive pacing is always maintained.

2. The game is good... but more of the same means less of the fun

This will be a short point - but UC2 is basically a carbon copy of the first and playing the 2 of them back to back ultimately left me unsatisfied by the end of UC2. When i say they are basically the same, i mean this quite literally. The plot structure is identical (some bad guy, some one worse than him, possible double cross, globe trotting for some semi mythical treasure and then a twist that mixes up the plot and enemies you fight towards the end of the game) to the first game and despite one or two genius moments (the opening sequence takes place about 2/3rds of the way through the plot for example), the whole game feels very much like the designers thought "we did this really well the first time, lets do the same again!"

While I've no problem with the old "if it aint broke..." adage, i must admit that i was left feeling slightly empty by the games plot and characters. Its not that they were bad, more that they were predictable, like much of the game. As i have said above the sequel retains so much of the first games approach that by half way through the game it felt more like I was playing an expansion to the first rather than a new game itself.

This creates one big problem - and i mentioned this in the review of the first game. Where the first game was more than the sum of its parts (none of the shooting / climbing / puzzling is particularly exceptional), the sequel actually feels like less, mainly because the sense of unpredictability is long gone after an 12 hour 1st game and 6 hours of the second.

Basically, you could say that familiarity was breeding contempt.

3. one big saving grace...

So while the game does not so much build on the success's of the first as it does replicate them. However, I loved the voice acting and characterisation. The game madea mistake in retaining so much of the first games structure that it feels like a copy, but what really sets uncharted out as fun game to play is the fact that all the main characters in the game (not just drake) get significant time on screen to develop their characters and have their own unique personality. Drake is wisecracking, but a very human hero, the two love interests are pretty amusing (one the bad girl traitor, the other a good reporter), the english chap who double crosses drake early on, Sully and even Lazarovich all get enough time to feel like a good supporting cast rather than just plot devices. Combine the above with generally first rate voice acting and you have a game that on occassions feels more like a movie with a great sense of fun anda genuine comitment to giving all of its characters face time. Its refreshing to see what could have been a brainless actin game actually take time to create at least semi believable characters.

So yeah, I liked UC2, enjoyed the sense of fun and generally lighthearted plot and was happy enough to finish it. Thats said, the game left me with no great inspiration to buy UC3 and I'll move onto a slightly different type of game next. UC2 is a good game, but it is just too like the first game for me to really have loved it. For me, great sequels take the rules of the first game / film and develop them in new and interesting ways. Sure, you can have the same core game play mechanics, but you need to bring variety in and UC2 just didn't mix things up enough.

Worth the £5 i paid for it on amazon, but a solid 7/10 game for me - rent dont buy!

D

Uncharted

June 11th 2012

Uncharted was a game I had heard a fair bit about, but never actually played. Well, rather, I had heard a fair bit about its sequels, two of which are on the PS3, another on the Vita. I picked it up, 2nd hand, and I must say that it was a great experience. However, before I go onto the main likes / dislikes of the game, its probaly worth mentioning one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much.

Put simply, it is very rare that I play a game, start to finish, and am left with the feeling that the designers knew exactly what game they wanted to make, how they wanted it to play and, importantly, a real sense of fun throughout. Yep - Uncharted, start to finish was consistent in the rules of play, encouraged you to have fun and gave you enough variety in its action, climbing and characters for me to feel really involved in it, start to finish. Compare this with Mass Effect 3, which I recently finished and commentated that the main reason ME3 fell apart at the end was not the slightly poor communciation of its plot, but rather the fact that it reduced the last 2 hrs of the game to something that was ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

Uncharted was a MUCH simpler game, but was also much better for it. Rather than go through my likes and dislikes about the game, I am going to comment on a few big stand out thoughts on the game, mainly around the design and gameplay as opposed to the story (you'll see why).

 

1. It really is more than the sum of its parts... because of pacing.

At face value, Uncharted is a blockbuster game with all style no substance. Yes, the core gameplay is actually quite flimsy - the climbing sections are no where near as challenge as the shaddow of the collossus, the action not a patch on gears of war and the story extremely light, even for an action game. However, what you get is a game that retains its sense of fun start to finish and, through limiting how much time you spend doing any one thing, enhances your enjoyment. THe pacing is excellent - you quickly learn the basics of cover, using your weapons (both fists and guns) and the game pretty much opens up and allows you to discover the best ways to taking out large numbers of faceless enemies.

Yes, the enemies are faceless, the action not as deep or rewarding as I may have hoped, but it retains a sense of genuinely encouraging you to have fun in the environment. On ocassions this is simply by tossing more enemies at you and forcing you to work out a strategy to defeat them. Then you die. And, yep, some of the enemies remain in the same positions when you respawn, but how they attack you often varies. It is all very well done - you cant just learn basic patterns, you have to at least think and react on your feet. In the action sections, this is crucial, because you will die alot. Its not that the game is particulary hard (it does have very forgiving save points), more that your health is so crappy that a one or two mis timed movements can end in your death, particularly towards the end of the game. This however does not distract from the action - the game respawns you immediately and reloads your ammo - rather it does heighten the intensity at which you progress through the game.

And this, for me, is the main reason I loved Uncharted - at no point during its 8 hr play through did I feel as if i was "rinse and repeating" the action or puzzles - you generally spent no more than 20 mins in anyone area and this generated enough variety to make it always feel as if you are progressing.

 

2. The action is good, the climbing satisfying and the puzzles a good distraction...

I dont really think that Uncharted had one core gameplay element that stood out. The action, on its own, was good, the climbing good and the puzzles pretty limited. But, enough of the time I felt as if I was doing something different and with a different challenge attached to it that I was happy to proceed. Sure, you can play through the action pretty brainlessly, but you can also think carefully about your weapons, use cover and melee attacks to make your way through an area and, if you really want, sneak up on enemies and take them out silently. It was a classic case of a game that was a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, but that was fine.

A quick note on the climbing - i really liked it. Mainly because i felt like i was playing a game that thought "yeah - we liked shaddow of the collossus - lets take the climbing out of it and see what happens in an action game". It really wortks - the climbing is simpler, integrates a light puzzle element, but does make enough use of the setting and puzzle elements to make it all worth while. Also, the animations are great - Drake looks superb flinging himself from pillar to post.

 

3. It goes to show, story is not everything...

The story was pretty lightwieght. It had bad guys i barely remember the names of, sidekicks who dont do much except move the plot on and the Francis Drake connection a little underused. That said, there was enough there to pique my interest and once the game got going (it took only 20mins for me to get really into it), the story was delivered with a similar amount of fun and lightness that befitted the game.There was no gravel voiced moddy dialogue here - Drake is an everyman (dressed in jeans and a tee shirt) with quips and actions that are totally in sync with the rest of the game. Indeed, it was one of the rare occassions where the relatively lightweight story actually helps the game - unburdened by a lack of pack story (say like Red Dead), minimal exposition is required and it had none of the fanboys that, say Final Fantasy or Metal Gear would have (meaning that it is not required to "tick certain boxes to appease them"). This means that you get a game, like its hero, is very much its own man.

Normally, i need a good story to keep me interested. Here, like in Vanquish, you have a game that puts fun at the front of the agenda and sticks to it firmly throughout the game. Refreshing, entertaining and while a little lightweight, certainly consistent with what it tries to achieve.

 

4. I think I've made my point, but there is one more thing...

I've spoken about the fun and the consistency of the game design, but there was one last thing that was particularly great about this game, being its last hour and a half. The game has a genius change of pace that ensures that the end of the game is not just interesting, but also has a different challenge. I'll not say much as it will spoil it, but there is a nice change in pacing that certainly develops the games plot and gameplay.

 

All in all, Uncharted is a great game. Yes, its story could have been better developed and the action is a bit lightweight, but you know what, I had a blast palying through it. The high production values certainly help (the voice acting is very good) ensure the game never slips too far into parody and while the name "Indiana Jones" was on my lips more than once, there was enough in this game in its own right to make me stand up and notice it.

Finally, credit to Naughty Dog - they managed to make a game with light plot, action that is not as great as its peers, simple puzzles and some straightforward platforming sections and turn it into a really enjoyable experience. If you occassionally enjoy films like Transformers. The Transporter and Indianna Jones you will certainly enjoy the comitment to fun and entertainment that Uncharted has.

A really good game.

DD

Mass Effect 3

May 21st 2012

Well, that was an experience. I completed ME3 a few weeks back and while i enjoyed 80% of the game, there was one large glaring error with the game. While i dont think the error ultimately led to the downfall of the game (it is still mostly great), it does demonstrate a genuine step backward for the ME universe. Yep, it was the end of the game (not the ending...), yep it was disappointing and yep, I got bored with the game because of the lazy scripting. That said, there were some great moments in ME3, and in the interest of balance, I'll cover both the pros and cons. First up, what i liked...

1. Faithful to the ME universe (on occassions)...

The game does stay true to its rootsin 2 areas.. It is, at its best, an exciting action RPG with plenty of interesting tactical fights that offer a number of ways of resolving them. It also boasts a wide range of weapons, alarge number of interactive characters and, it genuinely tries to expand on the universe without stamping all over the reasons why fans love it. Your core gameplay remains the same - travel, explore, fight and learn about your people, but the game does at least try to make it bigger and better, particulary during some key early exchanges. It would be tough to say that both the combat and tactics are not bigger and better than previous games.

It is actually very important to me that a sequel does not simply rinse and repeat - thankfullyt ME3 treads that fine line between doing what its good at over and over again and building on its truly exceptional parts. For the most part of the game, it doesnt disappoint and there is, initially at least a genuine feel that the game is bigger and better than its predecessors. In particular, look at the fights - more enemies on screen and more going on in the background - some fights feel genuinely like they are part of an epic war. This is no mean feat - other games like GOW3 try, and for the most part fail, to create an illusion of epic war, and for me ME3 is the first game to truly capture this, on a few occassions at least.

2. Shepherd

I'm not going to say much, but in Shepherd, like Solid Snake, Bioware have created a legendary character. Unlike Snake however, Shepherd is each players own personal creation. For example, I restarted the game after an hour of playing as (for reasons unknown) my previous Shepherd didnt look quite like the one I had played the previous 2 games with. I wanted my Shepherd to finish the game. In this sense, ME3 carried on that emotional connection already established and, while this may have more to do with ME2 and ME1, ME3 certainly places great emphasis on the emotional journey of Shepherd as a human and leaves plenty of clues to his background. During one stand out section, you are treated to voice recordings of when Shepherd was held by Cerberus. In the scope of the game, these are minor, but add depth and weight to character who seems more like a movie star than a mere CG animated avatar.

3. The End of the Game

Yes, I loved the very end of the game, as in the last 5 minutes. There is a great twist, a difficult choice and, for what its worth, the level of ambiguity played out very nicely against the backdrop of intergalactic war. For me, it was as if the game was saying "nothing is simple in life", and, while the execution of the ending was a little off (the end of the game + the fact i was unclear what choice i was making), the actual plot was, by this point, well developed and at least took the time to cover off some of the more interesting lose ends. I liked it - it was fun, entertaining and, genuinely made an effort at creating a strong story arc for one of the most loved game franchises.

What I didnt like...

1. The Ending of the game...

This is very different to the point above. I hated the last 2 - 3 hrs of ME3. I got so bored with the rinse and repeat action, artificial ramp up in difficulty (fight more of the same monsters over and over again) and complete abandonment of emotional connection to the main characters that for me, ME3 totally lost itself. It could so obsessed with creating what felt more like a long QTE than an epic ending to a great RPG. I mean, even the fight through "London" lacks any heart or soul. One big ben shot aside, "London" is really just a series of streets and alleyways in various states of ruin that you fight through. It does nothing to create atmosphere or any sense of urgency.

This lack of urgency is not helped at all by the fact that you effectively ditch all the characters you care about prior to landing on earth and all you get is to basically talk to them - some in person, some via VC - about the end of the war. It feels more like a token gesture to them and it ultimately relegates the secondary characters that made the games so special, to nothing more than bored bystanders with repeated dialogue. So dissappointing.

2. The "Love" Triangles

I am not going to say much about this except that compared to the first 2 games, the romance options are a joke. Not only are they badly executed (i spent time on one relationship only for her to inexplicably disappear about half way through the game, to then show up again as if nothing had happened later on), but they are also tacked on. There is no real screen time given to investment in characters. Fair enough you may say, this is all out war, but this genuinely hurts ME3. Previous ME games were elvated above their status as good games to being outstanding becasue you bought into and believed in the supporting cast - it was a believable universe. Here, and I hate to say it, all you get is well scripted dialogue that has minimal impact on the outcome of the game. It all felt as if the designers thought they had to give the fans a romance option, so hey, here it is. This was unrewarding, frustrating and felt superficial at best (i can imagine one or two of my colleagues saying "what else do you expect from a relationship).

3. Finally... the bosses

Action games arent made great by their bosses, but having ones that are interesting at least do help. Another way of making bosses relevant is to ensure that you require genuine strategy / ingenuity to beat them. None of that here - ultimately you are asked to fight bosses that generally look good, but are all beaten the same way you beat other characters in the game. There is not one boss that I would say is stand out. Even the most ridiculous fight in the game (you fight a reaver ship) is ludicrously dull. It even has the classic "do this attack 3 times and avoid its attacks and WIN". I ended up feeling bored and disengaged, mainly because at no point did i feel that beating a boss was making any kind of progress in the game, it was always an artificial milestone required to complete the game, rather than any sort of accomplishment.

Other gripes? Yes, but it would be unfair to include them in my issues with the game. The multiplayer is somewhat inaccessible, mainly because i have no idea what it contributes to the main game (yep - the "galaxy at war" motto was lost on me - felt like boring skirmsihes in a poor mans gears of war to me). Secondly, during the game, there is no real context that what you are doing is making a difference - yeah you can get loads of cool stuff and make loads of decisions (or at least have the illusion of decision making), but these dont really seem to impact the outcome of the game, or the pace at which you progress in it.

For me, the game tried too much and obscured most of what made it great. The online play, the decision trees and even the supporting characters all seem insignificant in the designers agenda. And herein lies the problem, what made the first two games great was just that - the attention to detail in the secondary characters and the wonderful supporting cast. Here, they were all sidelined for greater good of galaxy survival.

On paper, that makes sense, however, in a game built on players emotionally investing in its world and iuts inhabitants, ultimately the game left me with a feeling that it was sterile and a step backwards, not forwards for the series.

Overall - if ME3 was swapped with ME2, then everyone would hail ME3 as a great step forward. However, the bar was set so high with the ME2 universe, that ultimately ME3 fails tolive up to the high standard of its predecessor.

The game is good, well executed, well designed, but for me, stops short of being a true great becasue of its lack of attention to detail where it really counts (characters unexplored, poor communication of ideas and a lack of emotional investment) and a lazy ending that leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth.

Rating - if i were a ratings man, I'd say it was a solid 8 out of 10. I'd not dissuade people from playing it, but I'd recommend the significantly stronger ME2- both as a holistic gaming experience and a simple RPG - over ME3.

DD

PS have just started playing Skyrim - totally different type of game, but enjoyable. Will update on it at some point...

Gears of War 3

April 12th 2012

So i completed GOW3. I enjoyed it, overall, but did not love it. The game struggles for 3 big reasons, which I'll come to, but there are also some big moments that really do define what the series is all about. So, I'll start with the positive, and go to the negative...

Whats Great...

1. The Guns - yep, the guns are great. the game allows you to adapt your playing style on the move, hunched in cover, midfire and active reloads ratchet up the game speed with a direct focus on the gun play.You get a generous choice of weapons and multiple ways of using each. Some offer great full front combat where you want to punish large enemies (retro lancer), others present challenges - the main way to defeat a fast, armoured and agressive enemy is to use the slow to aim torque bow.

GOW3 always maintains a great sense of fun its weapons, both old and new. The last great thing is that often the great gameplay makes deliberate use of simple weapons spawns to make for some great battles. Faced by a large enmy, you can use your grenades, lancer and basic duck and cover tactics to take him out. Routine, but not great. How about you dive out of cover to pick up the mortar and use that instead - your now out of sight of the enemy so you have to estimate the distance, in metres, that you want to launch the mortar. At the same time, close range enemies are closing in so you probably have to drop the mortar after the first shot of it. Honestly, genuinely fun, but also intense.

 

2. The "Big Moments..." : GOW 3 packs in some huge moments, big reunions, big fights and Huge amounts of macho growling. It's great, and the big fights generally deliver with one glaring omission, and the big plot moments are great. Yes, there are deaths, but also the way the deaths are played out. Each significant death is given ample story time in this and previous gears games to ensure they have meaning and impact.

 

3. The Online games: Great experience when playing - slick interface, great game set ups, matchmaking usually smooth. And, horde mode is a pure minigame - take the best components of the main game and play them out. over and over again.

---

The Worst

1. The Plot :Too short, no opportunity to explore interesting sub plots, over macho characters dont quite handle the deeper emotional scenes and, finally, what happened to Sera. The first game really painted a beautiful picture of planets last days, where as this game ignored the first games beauty and, while it upped the ante on the gunplay, forgot to make it set against a beautiful background and left us with generic arenas to run and gun.

2. The difficulty & variety:  Too many battles can be solved the same way. The game tries to offer tactical variety through larger arenas and enemies which explode, but the fact that you areable to be recussitated by computer buddies is a massively generous way of lowering the games difficulty. It is great in the territorial and fast paced online game, but in the single player it makes veteran difficulty comfortable.  Add the fact that your larger arenas actually make the game easier becasue there are more areas to retreat to, and you get a game that presents ultra violence with ultra reviviable abilities. Mamy skirmishes, even late on, can be won through simply grinding down the generally poor AI enemies and avoiding dying.

 

3. The final boss : I didnt like any of the bosses in the game, but the last boss is flat and dies, without reason. Its not hard, it is very repetitive and felt a very lazy way to end a series that could be explosive. Also, the final boss invokes 1 key weapon that miracroulsly becomes usable. Like i say, lazy...

 

So yeah, a solid 8 rated game, and I loved bits of it, and elements of it but the long and not too fun stretch towards the end of the game basically meant that while bits of the game were great, these were too far spread out to mark it as a classic.

Minecraft thoughts coming soon... and I am playing ME3. Fuck its great.

 

DD

Final Fantasy XIII

February 16th 2012

So I bought and played FFXIII after X-mas. I got about 7 hours into it and really, really, wanted to like it, but i couldnt. You see the big problem with the game is obvious - obvious to just about anyone who plays for more than an hour - but incredibly distracting. I often talk about how important fun is, but fun is undefinable and incredibly subjective. When I think of "fun", something I'm thinking about is really just trying to enjoy that game for what it tries to do, what it is and what it genuinely succeeds that. This is why I still play retro games. And, you see, in FFXIII - it tries to be an epic game, steeped in tradition and backstory you can relate to. It hits the mark 9/10 times, but the one big point it misses is that as a game it doesnt want to let you feel in control at any point.

You see, on paper it's great - the characters are funny, the graphics superb and animations delightful. But the genuine interactivity is limited. In fact, it is more than limited, it is deliberately restrictive. Ingames that take time to teach you how to play it, I respect the patience. Some, like Command and Conquer, you need to be taught the mechanics to enjoy the complexity. I get this - and appreciate it. However, Final Fantasy takes this patience to an extreme.

What ends up happening is the game effectively allowing you to push forward for the start of the game. The dialogue is merely observed (and confusing) and the interaction you have with the game focused on making your Avatar move forward unassailed to the next area. Then the game spells out how to have fights. Then various components to combat are taught to you. Then you get to run forward. Repeat over and over.
While I love grinding in FF games, the problem here is that the game has an adult plot, an adult level of complexity to play (eventually) and an adult level of complexity - and yet it treats you like a child. In fact, the nearest analogy I can make to playing it is that it is akin to playing game you have already played before, but the person you are play with insists on explaining all the controls and nuances in great detail. Imagine that - it is incredibly frustrating, feels patrionisng and detracts from your ability to enjoy the actual gameplay. This is the way that FFXIII teaches you to play the game - it layers and labours the point.

What about the 9/10ths i loved? Well, I'm not going to go into much detail but the leading leady is superb. An utterly believable (and flawed) character that carries the bloated early dialogue. Secondly, the scenery is unbelievable. On my 360, which is apparently the graphically inferior way to play the game, the frozen lake in particular was inspired and beautiful.

Finally, one thing that I respected was the fact that the game set out to tell a very specific story (in the way many FF games do so) and was not afraid, even early on, to try and tell it in an interesting way. You get character focused flashbacks, a 13 day countdown and numerous other slightly vague references to time and all this creates an intriguing setting,  great plot, and interesting visualisation ofameloncholy story. I really respected and, on occasions loved it.

Ultimately, beneath the pomp and incredibly inhibiting gameplay, there is a great game. Truly there are glimpses of it, but all too fleeting. To end the post, the funny thing about the game is that I would actually recommend anyone give it a go. It is a very specific kind of game and I can see why people love it, so it is always worth giving it a go. Equally however, I understand and gree with those who criticise the game for its most obvious flaws.

In summary a great game, burried under an inhibited style.

D

Mass Effect

January 14th 2012

Before X-mas I bought Mass Effect 1 to play, mainly becasue my X-box save games all went caput and I wanted to play something interesting. I was also able to pick it up for about £5, so bargain for me and I jumped right into it. I dont have a huge amount to say about Mass Effect 1 to be honest - it is a great game but as I played it after I had completed ME2, my experience was slightly impacted. So, rather than do my usual notes on a few different elements of the game I loved,  I've decided to go for a few thoughts on what I thought was interesting about the game, specifically in relation to ME2.

1. Very much its own game, but not without problems....

ME1, as far as I am aware was released relatively early on in the Xbox360 life, but it does not show at all. The visuals are superb, voice acting excellent and the concept of the game incredibly well executed (a role playing sci fi epic where your choices and decisions genuinely matter). I loved it - every minute of it, but some elements felt half baked, under developed or just filler.

Specifically, the sections where you drive around barren planets in a buggy are a pain - the graphics are often superb, but here the game design is lazy at best and cheap at worst (drive here, check this, go to next way point and fight a monster). They dont detract from the overall game experience, but they are so in contrast with the high quality story / combat that they feel 'tacked on' to lengthen the game. And, talking aout combat, man do they make it harder than it has to be...

The combat is part 3rd person shooter, part cover based, part squad control and part "use biotics" (think magic / powers). THere is alot going on and they dont quite manage to pull it off, but you do forgive the game for trying so much, even if it is very glitchy and extremely clunky. It is, on occassions, almost as if the designers werent really sure just what they should make the game excellent at and instead went for a hybrid approach that comes very close, but falls just short.

2. It is its own game, but feels like a trial run for ME2

The game has its own plot, decisions, dilogue but as I had played ME2 and knew what could really be done, the game almost felt as if the developers were testing a load of ideas for the inevitable sequel. I know that I am probably saying this only because I had completed ME2 before this, but at least one person I know gave up on ME1 because it felt inacessible and tough. The game is not really, but the menu system, inventory management and clunky combat dont make for a fluid 3rd person RPG or 3rd person shooter.

With that in mind though, I actually think I enjoyed it more because i had played ME2 before this - I knew they could do so much better - and after 3 hours of playing I was engrossed in the story and able to ignore the problesms. Interesting, becasue I always felt like I was forgiving the game because it is worth perservering with as ME2 is that good. Make no mistake, when you do get into it, it is a superb game that really engrosses and exites in equal measure.

3. My one big mistake...

Because I played ME2, I decided to play ME1 on the easiest difficulty level. I almost NEVER do this with games as I enjoy both the challenge of a tough game and the satisfaction of become excellent at it.However, I never really got to this point in ME1 as I was effectively breezing through even the toughest bosses. Around half way through, I realised that this was a massive mistake - the game is definately good enough in its own right to warrent a proper play through and I didnt really get this.

However, this did mean I completed it relaively quickly and moved straight on to my 2nd play through of ME2, and boy did I enjoy that. In fact, I would go as far to say that I enjoyed my second playthrough of ME2 at least as much as the first as I was able to appreciate the in-jokes, see my decisions of the first game echoed in the sequel and appreciate the breadth of the plot of both games. All in all, I absolutely loved the second play through and felt like I was exploring a new game afresh, not merely repeating a great experience on an old one.

So, in summary, I strongly recommend playing both ME1 and ME2, in no particular order. When ME3 comes out, no doubt it will be an epic experience and enhanced by the time that I have already put into both of its sequels, and by the end of the second, all I wanted was more.

Two truly great games - superb story, great action and a fantastic cast of characters. The fact that ME2 goes toe to toe with GOW on the action, Red Dead on the story and other big hitting RPG's on the character development is testimony to just how far the games concept had come.

Enjoy them both, at least once, probably twice...

D

Letter to Edge - Can I play as Her?

November 30th 2011

This month I wrote a letter to Edge about females in computer games. I am not sure if it will be published, but, for the record, it is copied in full below, along with a link to Edge's site...

http://www.next-gen.biz/

Sirs,

As a subscriber of edge I have always enjoyed your features on games, particularly those that take the time to understand and explore the impact of a game (GTA III feature in the most recent edge is a great example). One comment in the recent issue caught my eye -

"Uncharted 3 may retain the female characters of the second game, but Naughty dog appears to have run out of things to do with them"

Women in video games is a topic that has been often debated but not fully explored as far as I can see and I would really value Edge's / Edge readers thoughts on the impact and future of female video game characters. For me, someone who purchased the first Tomb Raider on my PC (back when games came with a big box, pun not intended), I have always wondered when female game characters would move beyond the caricature they so often are.

Tomb Raider was actually a great example of an empowered heroine, albeit scantily clad and with some serious attributes, however her character was anything but fleshed out. When I think about male's in video games, there are several epic stories that spring to mind whereby we have a leading man with genuine emotional development (Red Dead Redemption), internally conflicted (Solid Snake) and even truly emotional (Shepherd : Mass Effect). While Shepherd can be played as a woman, the point here is that it is almost perceived as a novelty, not the norm. Even male characteers in some of the less thoughtful games (GOW, COD) have story arcs and character background, but female characters with the same are the exception, not the rule.

Mass Effect and Heavy Rain (and Catherine, though I imagine that is meant to be slightly subversive) are two exceptions to this rule, but when I think of the number of actresses who are recognised for their leading roles in large scale films - Jodie Foster (SOTL), Halle Berry (MB), Maggie Smith (HP) etc - there appear to be many more than those who are believably realised in video games. As much as I enjoy Grand Theft Auto, it effectively uses women to satirise society, and many other games use women similarly to titillate (DoA), merely provide balance to the plot (Resident Evil 2) or provide variety on a theme (Silent Hill 3). I do wonder when we will get a video game defining performance on the scale of, say, Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

I feel that vide games have their equivalent to Christian Bale (Solid Snake), Bruce Willis (Marcus Fenix), Viggo Mortensen (Boy in Shadow of Collossus), Clint Eastwood (Marsden) and even a decent supporting cast with Cilian Murphy (Otacon) and Keanu Reeves (Drake). But, where is our Clare Danes, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman or equivelants in Video games. I cant think of many and it is a damned shame. Instead, we have Princess Peach (Mario), Lara (TR) and, the developed but underused females in Metal Gear (Sonny, Sniper Wolf et al)

It would be genuinely interesting to see a fully developed epic game that not only had an excellently written female character, but also a complex love story, emotional weight and, most importantly, believable attributes (physical and mental).

One last thought - though I don't know the industry well, one assumption would be that both a cause and effect of this is that games have historically been a male dominated industry, so perhaps the writers focus on what they know and publishers focus on the target audience. But if you look at HBO's game of thrones, there is a broad mixture of genuinely interesting Female characters - young and old - that add a wonderful blend of variety and realism to what could have been an old boys tale of swords and sorcery (albeit indebted to the excellent source material).

Many thanks as always - its been a great year for Edge, including the revamp and hope you guys om the editorial and business staff have a great Christmas and new year....

Best

D

Other Games - A review from 2010 / 2010

November 8th 2011

Bugger, my X-Box has to go to Germany to be fixed / replaced. So frustrating as my GOW campaign and online fun is now haulted. So I will be down to my PS3, PS2, PSone, PSP, PC and iPhone. How the hell did i get to have all these consoles - i mean it is great but crazy that I have so many games etc here.

Anyhow, I thought i'd do a quick post to cover off a few other games that I have completed in the last couple of years that are definately worth mentions...

Heavy Rain -A rated : a great and genuinely genre breaking game that was interesting to play through and a fantastic story. Sure the controls dont always work and the plot is probably so full of holes that if you played again, it would seem absurd, but the game feels so revolutionary that it you just get on with it relentlessly. The best thing about the game is that it feels like playing a movie - a genuinely new experience.

Red Dead Repemption - A rated : An unbelivable game that combines cinematic scope with cartoon action and an wonderful story arc. The game feels like playing a movie, but in a different way than Heavy Rain in that its more like playing a kids cartoon movie that always maintains its great sense scale (riding a cartoon horse for miles IS fun) and the adult themes contrast nicely with the stylised violence and complicated characters. The other thing I'd like to sayabout RDR was that the music and voice acting were both superb and contributed to the whole great package that is, Red Dead Redemption.

 

Resident Evil 5 - B rated :  A great game but not a great horror game. The action is relentless and well done, the baddies are fun to fight and the plot is suitably ridiculous, but the whole game feels like a well trodden path and refined RE4 with a few upgraded weapons and moves. I also would love another RE horror game (not this B-movie action stuff) that returns to the series roots of atmosphere, sense of peril and exploration of strange places. Its a hard game to find serious flaws with, but is just not as relentlessly great as some of its predecessors.

 

Silent Hill : Homecoming - C Rated : I didnt actually finish this game but it was not for a lack of trying. I love Silent Hill games, mainly for there great sense of horror and the twisted and lack of fear in creating fear, but this is pretty soulless. There is no real drive in the game in that the urgency of SH1 is totally absent , the characters are wooden at best and the game leaves its roots firmly at the door. The lack of genuine horror hurts the game badly - without horror the game is relying on solid gameplay mechanics and interesting characters which it does not have.

Anyhow, just three games that I have played and would have made the list had I played them this year. No real purpose to the thoughts, but I did enjoy playing them all.  Next up - GOW3 when my X-Box returns from its travels.
Cheers,
DD

Portal 2

Portal 2 is another great game that I have played this year.  I actually completed it a few months back, but have yet to get round to writing it up. Portal 2 was an interesting game, and not just because of its great premise (shoot portals into walls and use them to solve puzzles), but also because it felt like a long game that never rushed its great set pieces or indeed great sets...

1. Standard setting - Great Scenery...

While the games setting itself is actually pretty generic and serves mainly to set up the puzzles, what the designers did with the scenery was fantastic. Although firmly a puzzle game, the game took time to allow you to explore the environment, wander around different environements and generally enjoy the experience. I suppose that is the beauty of a puzzle game - you are not really forced to progress, upgrade or battle increasingly challenging baddies - you can afford to be slightly laid back in how the game evolves, so long as the puzzles are strong (whcih they are).

One thing I loved about Portal was the sense of scale - it was easy to forget that you were basically wandering from one puzzle room to another because the intervening passages were given such TLC that it felt as much as an exploration of the setting as exploring the puzzles. One example sticks in my mind - the room where you ultimately catapult through a huge sign in the middle of the room. It took me a good 10 minutes to work out what do AND how to do it. Yet, it was great just to look around, enjoythe sense of scale the design and play around with the environment. Where COD and GOW generally railroad you through (albeit amazing looking) scenes, Portal actually delights in showing you how great they look and feel. It was refreshing to play a game that didnt just allow, but encourage patience and a "suck it and see" approach to the environment.

2. Comedy moments aplenty

Most of the reviews comment on the outstanding voice acting, hilarious script and incredible sense of fun the game brings to the table. All these observations are accurate, but when you combine this with the sense of exploration, what you have is an undeniably funny, witty and fresh game.

The voice acting is excellent - GLaDOS and your sidekick are superb. So uch so, that I restarted the game a few times because i had missed some of the dialogue. This definately keeps the game fresh and interesting. The lead character says nothing and the plot is pretty thin, more to serve the game than vice-versa, but this is always fine and never wears thin (there are not too many games I can say that about...)

3. the 'weapon' of choice - the portal gun

The portal gun is genius. Genius, not because it is BIG or upgradable or anything like that, but genius because it constantly feels like you are putting it to new uses. OF course, the whole game is scripted and sure, Valve know everything you can do with it, but using it genuinely feels like you are the first person to do so. It always feels like you can do cool stuff and the sense of exploration is enhanced by having one incredibly versile tool at your disposal.

It is almost too obvious to say that the gun makes the game what it is., but it genuinely does. And not just for what it can do - it sounds great and when it does actually get upgraded with a potato it has genuine personality too. Some games do have great weapons in them (Metal Gear - FAMAS, AvP - Assault Riflle and GOW - Lancer), but none that capture the sense of fun and essence of a game in the way the portal gun does. I am not into over eulogising about how great the tiniest details in games are, but trust me, by the time you finish the game (in an ingenious way) your gun is a tried and trusted friend that you taught you how to navigate an incredible, living and breathingworld.

Any gripes? Well, a few. The puzzles did, on occassions feel like fillers - not all of them were relentlessly innovative, but this is a minor criticism. I also thought the pacing of the game was a bit off, particulary in the middle section. There were bits where the structure of the game was repetitive, and while the travelling between sections was great, ther rooms are basically just that - bigger versions, but basically ythe same. Any one of these things on there own would be totally fine, but added together with the pretty basic plot, there were one or two sections where I was having to self motivate to play, rather than just enjoying the ride. Minor complaints really, becasue the game does genuinely do a great job of creating a sense of exploration and fun.

 

In summary - it is a great game that I highly recommend any one gives a chance to. It is the sort of game I'd actually like my dad to play just so he experience a truly innovative game (i've not played portal 2...).  One of the best games I have played in 2011 for sure and a great comparison with Dark Souls and Vanquish. I compare to Dark Souls (which I hated) because it has a sense of fun and challenge totally missing from Dark Souls (all challenge, no fun). The Vanquish comparison is made becasue it is fun, but in a totally different way. Vanquish also has a slim story, but both games maintain a great sense of fun and exploration the whole way through. Very different games of course, but I genuinely love games that a) dont take themselves too seriously and b) arent afraid of getting a great premise and sticking to it.

All in all, loved Portal 2 and a solid A rated game...

 

DD

Dark Souls

21 October 2011

There is undeniably a great game in dark souls. Undeniably, people with more patience than me discovered it. But i pre ordered this game looking for a challenge and an engrossing game. I got one but not the other.

I mean, I read the reviews and knew i was in for a challenge but hell, this was just punishment. It took me about four hours to get through the first 25 mins of the game. Ive no problem with that, as long as the game takes the time to show you the ropes, but the instruction is minimal, the plot negligible and the reward non existent. I was basically forced to fight the same bad guys over and over and over again.

Ive no problem with repetitiveness in games - in fact i respect i MASSIVELY when a game pulls it off successfully. The problem with DS isthat it relies on repetitiveness as a method of providing a challenge. The mechanics are designed to provide a challenge, again, no objections in principle, but by the time i had played through the same group of enemies at least 30 times, i got bored.

And, as you know, for me, games are meant to be fun, and that was totally missing from this game. Perhaps, somewhere down the line i would have found the fun element, but I spent at least half of two weekends trying to find the fun and ended up feeling angry with the games rules (constant respawning, constant mindless violence and ZERO explanation) to feel in any way engaged. If you compare this game with the like of SotC, where there was a challenge but also reward, there is only one game I would go back to.

Dark Souls, i could tell was well made and had a great game inside it, but do i really have the time available to find it?No. I would rather play a game that encouraged me to explore it, not punished every small mistake relentlessly. It felt difficult for the sake of being difficult and lacked any real fun (or plot or imagery or anything that I value in a game). The other end of the spectrum is Heavy Rain - challenge but a rail roaded conclusion. Similar challenges (in that the game is limited) but at least progress is real, tangible and fun. Dark Souls is a great game obscured by its desire to be something that I have no interest in (literally) fighting my way through.

Sold on amazon, two weeks after I got it... NEXT UP PLEASE.

Shadow of the Colossus

21 October 2011

I am definitely not the first person to be blown away by this game, but what makes it special is different for every person. I've read so many reviews of SotC, but the only way to really get a feel for it is to play it.

The thing with SotC is that it should not be a great game - the controls are poor, it is basically a series of boss fights, it is incredibly infuriating AND there is no real coherent narrative or plot. Yet, playing it feels like watching an epic take unfold in your head, in which you are both a narrator and participant. Yes i had frustrations, yes the game made me practically throw the controller across the room and YES I DID NEED A GUIDE for every boss... but not once did I feel like I was diluting my experience. Rather, i was playing a game that challenged me, left me wondering and painted such beautiful pictures with limited tools and I was left wondering what could have been...

Its not really fair to review it any conventional way, given that i basically cheated to play it, but there were certain things that stuck at as raw genius and beauty that I have to comment on....

1. The Challenge...

I could not pick up and play this game. I tried - genuinely tried. There is basically no tutorial, the instructions are vague and the challenge immense from the outset. There are no directions to go, no simple guidance, no opportunities to "learn" save from the message that "collosi have weak spots". This is a bit like saying you can take down an amy...if you know how. The beauty in the game is exploring the colossus. And it is DAMNED hard.

That said, though i used a guide, it was still bloody hard. Guides tell you what to do - doing it is another challenge entirely. And this is why SotC has a special place in my heart - even though i completed it, i still feel that if i had to do the whole thing again I would struggle.

However, the sense of reward that comes from defeating a collosus is huge. even the first one. it always feels epic, challenging and, most of all, believable. It is not believable in the sense that the game is realistic, but believable in that it defines its rules early on and sticks, totally, to those rules. They are : Find out how to get on a colossus, find its weak spots and stab them. The game surprises and shocks, but not at the expense of its integrity. It is not like the challenge in many other games - i was infuriated, but infuriated because I was not good enough, not because the game was being ridiculous.

2. The Colossus

I dont want to say much about the beasts themselves. If you play it, you will have your favourites (the sand snake and ALL the flying ones, oh and the monstrous one with the sword....) and the ones that drive you to distraction (the smaller the harder + the end boss), but you never want to give up.

All I'll say here is that the sense of wonder is never diminshed. I mean, hell, my dad who hates video games even helped me beat the first one. It is genuinely engaging, interesting and above all, fun. clinging on for dear life has never felt so much fun...

3. The Game

Put simply, you can't break this game into its component parts -it is permanently more than the sum of its parts. Just playing it makes you think about the story, the beauty, the world, the characters and, ultimately, the breath taking magnificence of what the designers were trying to do. To my mind, they wanted to create something that feels intuitive, yet challenging, original, yet basically the same challenge looked at from different perspectives and a feeling of isolation without ever being truly alone.

That may sound clichéd, but the point is you are never truly alone - you have a horse, and enemies, yet always feel isolated. Isolated, not because the world is sparse (which it is), nor because there is basically no dialogue (which there is not), but isolated because it makes you create the story around you. The setting is stunning, even by PS3 and Xbox standards, yet it is always sparse. You are not just "killing big beasts", you are killing them for a reason and killing them with sadness at what you have to do and killing them with nothing more than your basic tools. You end the game with what you start with (less so, but ill not spoil that...) you are isolated because you create the story around the game, create the characters and create the whole experience. The game is just a tool to show you the beauty of the creatures you are killing, the rest is, so to speak, up to you.

Verdict

Play this game. At least, give it a go. It is one of the most pure challenges i have had and, while the game can be boiled down to 16 boss fights, it is so much more than that. Every place you visit, every enemy you see (all 16 of them) have personalities that you have to discern for yourself. Weaknesses you have to discover and exploit. But more importantly, Every time you face of against a Colossus, you are doing so as an unequal. You are doing so in a very human way - you are no super man, no soldier nor no epic hero. You are a man on a mission with very defined skills that dont improve. You have a simple set of tools.

Yet, like the game, your tools are more than the sum of their parts as it is your brain and fingers that dictate where you get to. Your brain and fingers that decide what to do and how to do it.

Ultimately, it is your brain and fingers that make the game what it is - the old question of "if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it" has never been more apt.

Shadow of the Colossus is more that a game, it is about creating an experience that allows the player to immerse themselves in it with a simple rule set. The rules dont change, but your experience will. Your experience grows and your view of the game and its story grows, but it is always dictated by what you think, feel and do. It is a game designed to make the player own everything in it, from the plot, to the challenge to the cinematics - even the cut scenes, in isolation have no meaning. They have only the meaning you assign to them.

It is remarkable. It is wonderful. But, most importantly, it is, absolutely, a game to be played, rather than talked about. And that is the greatest compliment.

DD

LA Noir

03 September 2011

Its been too long...

Where does the year go? It feels like only yesterday that I was writing about how much fun I was having on Vanquish but that was at least... 3months ago! Crikey. It was a great game. Shortly before I completed Vanquish, I bought a brand new copy of LA Noire. This was interesting for two reasons : 1. I very very rarely buy new games at full price and 2. I loved red dead redepmption so much that I just had to get another dose of some period drama with guns and wenches.

However, LA noire did not work for me, not at all. I played it, gave it as much of a go as i could, but ultimately gave up on it. Why? There were 3 reasons....

1. High Production Values, No Soul...

The whole game, or at least all of it that I played reeked of class. The voice acting was good, the plot was, at least at the start, interesting, the gameplay seemed genuinely innovative, but I was not once engaged with the characters.  I was playing the game and found myself actively wanting to skip cut scenes and, basically, didnt care about any of the characters. Compare this to my Red Dead experience, and while probably a more simplistic plot, at least the characters were interesting and, though cliched, ones I wanted to invest time in exploring. Be that Marsden and his trouble past or the sherrif or the nut job who dug up graves, Red Dead felt living and breathing - LA Noire did not.

Too often I was left feeling as if i was playing inside a scripted game - the action sequences were unexciting and unispired, the majority of the "chase" sequences dull and lacked fun and, the city, while lacking the desolate lonliness that gave Red Dead its charm, seemed there merely to serve as an "intersting place" to run around in, rather than something to be explored.

This was a big budget game, but left all its soul at the door.

 

2. It ignored its greatest strength...

I will be very short here - I LOVED the interrogations. They were genius, but by 12 hours in, they were the only thing I was playing the game for. As I said above, the restof the game, inc. the cityfelt like it was there to serve the plot rather than be interesting in its own right, and the interrogations were great but broken up by turgid chases, bumbling around "crime scenes" in place of clues and generally distracted. I dont know but i felt they were criminally underused...

3. But was it fun - or just slow and distracting...

There were a few occassions in the game when i felt i was having genuine fun (mostly interrogating people), but by and large I felt frustrated. Rarely has a game left me wishing it did a few basic things so much better. I mean, the driving is so dull, the learning curve pathetically ling and the chasing criminals soooo repetitive that I couldnt help but feel there was a great game burried in there, but I was not willing to invest the time and effort to find it.

In general, I like long and slow games - my old favourties of Final Fantasy, Resident Evil and even Metal Gear 4 have long periods of dialogue, thinking time and general "plot sagging" moments. But at least they were fun. LA Noire became a slog - the slow bits were never rewarded well enough - the fun just was not there....

Conclusions

What should have been a great game ended up being a very dull one. If only they had put as much thought into designing the overall arc of the game as teh facial animations, I cant help but feel you'd get a shorter, less linear and more entertaining game.

LA oire became the first game of the year I bought at full price, sold at half that and then Bought Portal 2. Expect a review of that soon....

Verdict : Massive let down I doubt I'd give another go to, great ideas or not.

 

Vanquish

4th April - enjoying Vanquish

Just re-started playing vanquish tonight - its actually quite good, though I am finding the combat repetitive and less varied than GOW. There are no real tactics (yet) and there is a MASSIVE difficulty spike between Normal and Hard difficulty levels. That said, the relentless pace, slick graphics and cool weapons are, for the time being, making up for the lack of depth. It is definately fun, definately entertaining and the comic book characters havent yet annoyed me. That said, the techno soundtrack is a little annoying - I mean, why does it have to have the same mental techno music playing for every battle - take a break! I normally love techno, but 1 hr in and this is a bit much for me...

Anyhow, will post as I play more... I am looking for a decent XBOX or PS3 game to play after Vanquish - suggestions appreciated. I keep coming back to Alan Wake, but havent quite bitten it is worth the time I'd need to invest...

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24th April 2011

Vanquish - a great game with minimal plot...

I've just completed Vanquish and dont actually have ahuge amount to say about it. It was a really great game, very fun to play and. while relatively short (5.5hrs), felt about right in terms of challenge and game time.

When I orignally started playing it, I had just completed GOW 2 and found it incredibly difficult to get into. This was because it was similar in concept to GOW (i.e. cover based shooter) but very different in tersm of control,pacing and look and feel. Where gears feels bigger than life, charactured and physical, Vanquish feels waspish, scienctific and slick. Does it work? For the most part yes...

1. Guns - not so many guns

The guns in Vanquish are pretty generic and lack the character of their GOW equivelants. You have your standard rockets, rifle, shotgun and sniper rifle with limited opportunity to upgrade. There is one exception - the LFE gun. This is easily the standout weapon, not so much for the damage it causes, but because it basically knocks enemies off their feet by sending a ball of purple light at them. May not sound like much, but trust me - by the third hour of the game you'll have some fun knocking great big monster / machine hybrids around a map like they were pieces of Lego.

Like I say, for a shooter there is suprising lack of imagination and all the guns funtion in pretty much the way you would expect. No bad thing, but a definate detractor from the game.

2. Movement - now you're talking...

Where cover and slow based "tactical" movement was the order of the day in GOW, Vanquish is all about flexibility. Courtesy of the super suit you are wearing, you can zip around the arenas, shooting the living crap out of robots and back into your cover in the blink of an eye. It is remarkablly well executed, mainly because of the ingenius balancing of super-human speed with the ability to slow time down when doing this.

For a limited time, you can use your suit to give you a competitve edge by turning the combat into Bullet-time esque combat set pieces. At first it seems almost counter intuitive, but soon enough turning up the pace then ratcheting it down to give you increased control works incredibly well. Essentially, it gives the game that does rely on relentless combat an extra dimension that can be missing from GOW relatively linear approach to combat. Kudos to the guy who decided to blend high speed with slow-mo control.

3. But is it fun? Vanquish bosses this aspect...

I frequently ask myself if a game is "fun" when playing,  So many games, I feel, delude you into to thinking you are having fun by throwing more eplosions, set pieces and gore at you (Dead Rising and COD - I am looking your way...) Vanquish however serves up big time on the fun scale. Like I said above, you have the flexibility to fight the way you want, but also the game allows you to be imaginative in how you dispose of bad guys. While the weapons for the most part lack any fun factor, your ability to knock over, punch, saw in 2, turn long range into close range combat and zip around at your will creates an often exilhirating expeience. But, like so many games, you have to deal with the bosses, and Vanquish does not disappoint.

The bosses for the most part are either spectacular or ingenius. Fighting everything from 200 foot armour plated killing machines to a souped up AT-AT walker always feels fresh and fun. The scale of the bosses is great, and yes, alot of the time it is just "find the strategy and exectute it" but it never feels too repetitive. The game keeps throwing new things at you and credit to it in keeping what could be a simple concept feeling epic and challenging.

So, by now you can tell i had a blast playing Vanquish -  and for £20 I'd heartilyrecommend it to anyone who wants 5 hours of pretty brainless but satisfying shooting.

Any gripes? A few - the story, the characters and the ending sequence. Firstly, the story itself could be a pretty cool concept, but it is told incredibly poorely. By the end of the game I had no idea what I was fighting for and the plot "twists" are very badly communicated. In fact, they almost feel like an afterthought just to try give the game a bit of depth. For the most part they dont and feel pretty ham fisted.

Related to this, with the exception of Sam, who is a great character (and very well voice acted), the supporting cast are limited. Even GOW manages to add in a bit of depth by giving some back story and motivations to its cast. Vanquish for the most part does not bother. Finally, who ever thought it was a good idea to play a ropey version of space invaders to get through the end credits needs a stern telling off. The fact that you cant skip it left me very cold - all i wanted to see was my end game stats and save the progress - please let me do it.

So there you have it, game numbner four for 2011 and so far I've not been disappointed by any. Vanquish lacks the plot or genuinely epic feel of GOW, but delivers in spades for fun and violence. A special note to the graphics and gameplay- they  are superb and not once did the frame rate slow. The team did a great Job in keeping Vanquish true to its core principles of slickness, speed and fun throughout.

Solid A- rated fun in a B-movie story.

Dante

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Dead Rising 2 - why get up?

April 03 2009

Dead Rising - the first game I've given up on in 2011

I was bought dead rising 2 for Christmas by my mum - quite why this one attracted her attention is beyond me, but due to prioritising both GOW and ME2, I only got round to playing in this weekend for the first time. And boy, did I wish I hadnt bothered. The interesting thing with DR2 is that there is quite clearly a lot right with it. I only got about 2 - 3hrs into it and loved some of the ideas it brought out, but other parts of it I just downright hated and got infuriated with.

I'll go into a bit more detail below, but there was one thing theme that seemed to permeate all the complaints I could have of the game - they were design choices, that is, the developers deliberately set the game up that way (with one potential exception).

1. the combat was designed by a child

Repeatedly tapping the x button is not my idea of fun, but that seems to be the only way to succeed in DR2. Every bit of violence I was involved in was a simple hammering of the X button. How can you make chainsawing zombies so dull?

2. the HUD is awful

honestly, what were they thinking? It was totally cluttered, I never had a clue what mission I was meant to be doing or why andthere seemed to be as much information on the outside of the scream as there were zombies in the middle of it

3. the missions were tedious

Trying to find old grannies and escort them and escort them back to a safe house while they are chased by zombies, who cant hurt them, is, plain and simple, not fun. When they cant get hurt there is no risk in the mission, it is just a linear tailgating exercise where you have to repeatedly smash the X button to hurt any zombie that gets close to you.

4. it thinks its funny, but it's really not

I got so put off by the humour due to the terrible cut scenes that every attempt grated on me. Yes, dressing a grown man up in women's clothes is amusing for about 5 seconds, but that's it.

5. The lack of saves

So, you walk for twenty mins, and get killed. Bad news, there is no option to restart from the last area you loaded up - your right back to the last save point and have to go through all the load screens again just to get to where you were. Major frustration that one, leads me on to....

6. Constant load screens

Cutscene - loadscreen - out of safe house - loadscreen - cutsence - load creen - in mall , exit area - loadscreen and so on... I mean, if GTA can avoid load screens, surely this can

7. no direction or guidance

Apparently I was meant to find something called Zombrex. I got the first one from a pharmacy, then I had to find another. The game gave me no clue as to how to get this, save for the useful tip "you can buy some". Shame really that it costed 5x as much cash as I had. It's not so much the game was hard, just really obtuse and deliberately deceptive in what it wanted you to do

Finally..

There are other complaints, and I am sure I would have found many more if I continued playing, but the above was enough to make me not want to play anymore. The game was deliberately designed to have high difficulty spikes, punishing save structure and a "humourous" take on violence. Add this into what was really cheesy dialogue and a crap story and I was left totally cold.

The game has already been listed on amazon and bought by someone - maybe they can find more joy in it than I could, I was left as cold as the dead by DR2.

 

Dante

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Mass Effect 2

Thursday 31st March 2011 - completed ME2

Well, what can I say, other than what a game. From the first bit of dialogue to the last, I loved ME2, despite not having played the first one. Everything from the tight story, engaging and, dare I say it for a video game, believable characters to the relentless action and amusing sleaze hit all the right notes with me. In short, I loved the gamestart to finish and there are 3 main reasons why...

1. Shooter and RPG and adventure game...

You basically get 3 games in one with ME2 - you can play the majority of the game as a shooter, ducking in and out of cover a lá gears of war, firing off lighting bolts, fire and many other powers as and when you wish. The cover works well, as do the different weapons you have.

However, what was really refreshing was that the all action, violent and breath-taking assaults was played out under the back drop of an RPG in the way GOW wasnt. You have choices to make, people to talk to, people to rescue and aliens to seduce - and in many respects this did not detract at all from the combat, rather it enriched it. Everything, all your actions and choices felt like they had more weight than in GOW because you care about the universe you are exploring. Yes - GOW combat is tighter, more refined and more tactical, but ME2 is every bit as rewarding.

The adventuring elements of the game largely involve exploring strange new worlds and talking to strange new people. These elements can git a bit samey after a while despite the incredible art design of the game, but though the exploration can be repetitive, the dialogue choices and conversation tree's are down right brilliant. You can have plenty of fun just strolling around talking to your shipmates, various street merchants and other random NPC's. The universe is kept well and truly alive through the great characters that inhabit it.

2. The Dialogue and art design

A great deal of effort clearly went in to getting talented voice actors, designing the characters and writing a script that has less quantity than, say Metal Gear, but as much depth. You don't watch cut scenes, you take part in them, guiding what feels like actors rather than game characters to say what you want, how you want it. Add to this the structure of the conversations, your choices are made based on a word or two to give you a flavour for what the character will say and you have a game that feels entertaining and fresh.

Add to this art design that would look at home in one of the modern star wars releases and you have a game that is well and truly immersive and genuinely fun to explore. The fact that different worlds have their own rules, customs and unique feel and at no point did I feel like I was exploring a boring world.

3. the sleaze

Honestly, I had so much fun just wandering around the ship making a (male) Shepard say chat up squad members and the crew. I don't know what it was, but I think the fact that a lot of the humour in the game comes from the ideas of romance against a backdrop of interstellar war ensured the game didnt take itself too seriously. It was amusing to think that despite being about to go out on a suicide mission and having being dead for 2 years you stillfind time to hit on some chicks. Hilarious stuff...

And Finally...

Any gripes? No major ones, mainly that the game does quite a good job of disguising how linear it is through the varied dialogue and loyalty based missions, but ultimately you end up in exactly the same mission and the only variety appears to be in who dies. Also, on the side quests - I found to be mostly dull. They appeared to be mainly of the "go here find this bring back to me" type that leave me cold.  Another gripes would be that the combat was not really all that varied as it is in GOW or even Vanquish, but then again, the game was not just a combat game.

All in all, a cracking game and fair entertainment that worked out (I realised) at less than £1 per hour (it took me roughly 25 hrs to complete the game. Quite simply, one of the best games I've played.

Dante

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Gears of War 2

Saturday 19th March - Completed GOW 2

First things first, must say, I really enjoyed itYou can pretty much take everything I said about GOW below and repeat it here, only add the fact that GOW2 is bigger and better in many respects. As such, I'm not going to go into any detail on the mechanics or core gameplay elements of GOW2 - it should all be familiar. However, there are a few interesting differences...

The Plot and Characterisation is more full on...

Firstly, the game feels longer and more mature than its predecessor. This is definitely a good thing and the one or two plot twists that do arrive feel interesting, if not totally organic. In particular, I liked the race to sink Jacinto - it was nicely ironic that both Locusts and Humans were seeking the same short-term tactical solution, albeit with different ends in mind.

Secondly, although the characters are painted with broad brush strokes, at least time is taken in this game to explore their motivations (Dom fighting for his lost wife and Marcus fighting for himself, Anya and his father). Even some of the more 1 dimensional characters (Cole &  Tai) get some emotional development beyond the "trusty sidekicks" that they felt as in the first game.

All in all - GOW 2 looked to expand on the GOW Universe both thematically and on a character level, and for the most part, it worked.  In particular, the subtle take on Marcus's character hit home for me - his emotions when Tai is lost, his trying to support Dom and, at the very end when Anya is feared missing, are all very naturally underplayed and believable.

More action, more epic fights - some sleight of hand

The fighting is also generally more intense and on a larger scale - it all works really well and while GOW is not a War simulation, it does try hard to capture, what I can only imagine is the intensity of a simulated battle situation. However, one recurring frustration with the game is the team AI. Your team mates AI is generally good but it there are a number of occasions where my squamates went hurling off into a fire fight or point-blank refused to follow me until I had passed some imaginary way point. Very frustrating, but, generally forgivable.
My second point on the fighting is that while yes it is more epic, you generally only have between 4 and 6 or 7 bad guys at a time. This itself is fine BUT there are occasions, particularly towards the end of the game where you are shown hundreds of locusts pouring forward. On these occasions, you are either at a high vantage point and can't engage with them or in a video sequence. This is no bad thing - but I was left feeling a bit cheated. Imagine a full on battle with 2 gears vs. 100 locusts - now that would be intense....

The Setting...beautiful but misses one trick...

In the first game, I praised the art design, the look and feel and the fact that it felt like Sera itself was almost like a character. The second game, for better or worse took a more expansive approach to art design, and you will find yourself wandering though underground caverns, the inside of a giant worm, the side of a mountain, an old GOW landing site and, even, a Locust Palace.

Yes, this variety is great and yes there are some distinctive places to fight through (and blow up) but, the fact that you relentlessly fight your way through these places means that although they are beautifully rendered, they feel more like places to fight through than places that actually exist on Sera. There are some exceptions - the Locust Palace is definitely one, but so is the last stand of Jacinto. However, these are merely 2 in a plethora of locations. It is just a same that, in this case, while variety is great, consistency would have added depth to the world of Sera.

Final Thoughts...

In most respects, GOW2 is a better game than GOW1.  That said, I still think I enjoyed GOW1 more - sure there is less plot, less action and the final boss is ropey, but there was something beautiful about the world that was being ripped apart around you. GOW2 takes all the great elements of the first, expands on them and improves on many (chainsaw battles are satisfying if infrequent), but a small (very small) part of me wished for a more compact urban battle, rather than the expansive world-changing cavernous battle that GOW2 was.

Best Moment

Battling through Jacinto while hearing the gravel tones of Marcus shouting "we are the re-enforcements!". He is a mans man...

Worst Moment

Dom, I love you, but one section took me literally 20 attempts to complete as you kepy charging into a hail of enemy fire without any concern for mine or your own well being. PLEASE STOP DOING THAT.

Favourite Thing

I loved Cole Trains relentless enthusiasm, ridiculous quips and self parodying attitude - it could have been so stupid, but is actually a source of hilarity. That and a chainsaw on the end of my gun - NEVER GETS OLD. Love it.

Dante

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Gears of War

Friday 04.02.2011 - completed Gears of War 1

Having just completed my first game of 2011, I thought I'd write about what made it worthwhile and, ultimately, fun.

The Challenge

Gears of War, played on Hardcore the whole way through struck the right balance between story & game progression and challenge. Several sections of the game, most notably in and around the Fenix estate required multiple attempts to complete but at no point did I feel overwhelmed with anger at the game. Well, that's in part a lie - my lunatic AI time mate did cause me to swear as he went belly first into a load of bad guys fire without so much of a thought for me. What can you do?

Other than the idiotic AI, generally speaking the balance between uphill battle and progression was superb. Even the on-rails gunning sections were short enough not to provoke too much anger. I loved the fact that the game was confident enough in its controls, concept and ultimately, gameplay to just let you get on with it and grind through some of the tougher sections - you always felt that failure was because you hadn't found that sweet spot of cover, been patient enough or been too gung-ho. In short, I never blamed the game for failure, and those games that either seem to arbitrarily change the rules or gameplay in an attempt to spike the difficulty always feel like they are cheating you.

One more thing on challenge - for me, what made the game so good was that, at its heart it is an action game, obviously, but if it has the heart of an action game (and brain), it has the soul of a puzzle game.

Gears is a great puzzle game, not just a great action game

This may seem a little bit strange, especially for a game that bases so much of its core gameplay on running, gunning and hiding. However, when played on hardcore, many of the sections that did have to be played through multiple times were played through like a puzzle game - trial and error. Often, what at first glance looked like the best place for cover turned out to be nothing more than a starting point. You were often encouraged to look to go gung-ho, but actually, working out where to hide to deal with the different types of enemies at different times had more in common with Tetris than, say , Call of Duty.

I've played both and the COD games rely on you blasting your way relentlessly through faceless bad guys. Gears of War allows you to do this, but you have to think where / when to hide, when to pop out of cover, which side of cover gives you the best shot and, ultimately, whether or not your cover is going to cover you in 30 seconds time when the next enemies come pouring in. Think about the section where you are defending the petrol station and APC from locusts - in that one section alone you have to use multiple different pieces of scenery / locations for cover and, depending on what weapon you are using, they have different strenghts and weakness's. When I say its more like Tetris it is because during the bigger & more intense / challenging battles you need to think 2, 3, 4 steps into the future.  Sitting still is an option, butyou're better off trialing different combinations of weapons / positions / movements to try to get the best balance of attack / defence / preservation. This, ultimately is what makes it more than just a simple shooter -  the cover mechanic adds a richness to spawning and killing of enemies that few other games have.

Story - it could have beengreat

If there was one thing about GOW that could have been fantastic but is sort of a let down it's the story. I suppose that GOW doesn't really need a story to make it great and sure, it was probably the least important bit of the game design, but after 10 minutes of the game I was thinking it could have been epic. In the end, the scenery & character design tell the story as much as the dialogue. The crumbling cities, the beautiful organic caverns and distinctive armour of each of the gears all add up to create a living and breathing Sera. You can tell that this is where much of the effort was spent in design - visually ( and i dont just mean the killer graphics) it is both beautiful and terrible.

Half-way through the campaign you realise that the occasional cut scenes and comments from the characters is all you're going to get, which is a shame. The back story and legacy of the mistakes man kind have made is all hinted at in the short intro sequence, but that is all you get - hints at the characters, the bigger picture and the beauty of Sera. Ultimately it feels as if the story was built around the game. Compare this to Metal Gear Solid : Guns of the Patriots, where on occasions it feels as if the game was designed to fit a sweeping and epic story. Of course, endless cut scenes would have ruined the fast paced GOW, but some sort of middle ground, I cant help but feel, would have added to the overall experience.

Guns - lots of guns.

I grew up playing Doom, Quake, Unreal and other games where the main objective was often "get a bigger and better gun". GOW has the confidence to give you all the weapons (bar one) very early on and, your workhorse gun, is one that you use for the majority of the game. This, initially felt a bit strange but ultimately benefits the game. Generally, the main question is not "where is the next bigger / better gun" but "what is the right gun for this situation".  By removing the need to focus on weapon progression (or indeed any other kind of false character XP progression), the game allows you to focus purely on the fantastic gameplay and set pieces.

This works well for me - in fact, I typically only used the sniper rifle and Lancer for the whole game and not once did I feel bored of them or want more.

The Baddies & bosses

The locusts are pretty cool all things considered. They look distinctive, they're fun to chainsaw and you're generally aware of the bigger / tougher ones presence (Boomers shout BOOM just to let you know they're on their way) when they do enter the fray. As I said, I think the story could have been developed and this would have benefitted the locusts (why are they fighting? who is the female voice?), but they do the job well - they are fun to kill countless times.

One bad chap I wanted to give particular mention to, was the final boss - Raam. Now, typically boss fights rely on you working out the weakness / attack pattern / critical weapon to use and there are a few instances of this in the game, but the end boss is, basically a bigger soldier than usual. It was great to be able to basically kill the bad guy and finish the game by just repeatedly shooting him. No grand attack strategy, no ridiculous having to do multiple QTE's to win - just a simple blow the cr@p out of a huge soldier - it was very in line with the rest of the game.

Final thoughts

With Gears 2 already in my Xbox, you can tell I'm a fan. It was a great game, I enjoyed every minute of the soldiering / running / gunning and covering and there are few games that felt as natural to play and fun to play over and over again. One of the best games I've played, and I'll likely go back to try insane mode once I've finished GOW 2.

Best moment : either the first time you pop into cover or the assault on the Fenix Steps - it just felt fantastic and like a turning point a huge battle.

Worst moment : inside the fenix house, Dom running off every 5 seconds to attack on his own and getting slaughtered over and over again

Most fun thing : Chainsawing a locust in half - it will never get dull

Favourite thing? : I loved the lancer, but, my favourite thing in the whole game is the ability to swap cover from left to right in the blink of an eye. It could have been so awkward, but it always feels smooth and tight

Dante

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