Minecraft v1.0 (PC)

This week I’m going to be looking at a phenomenon that has been spreading through the internet community like crabs at art college. So prepare to need another trip to the STD clinic as I explore the world of Minecraft.
I originally bought Minecraft last year during it’s beta stage for the equivalent of pocket change, and you know what? My pocket change has never bought me this much fun before. Usually because I’m stingily hoarding it like some sort of Scrooge McDuck, Montgomery Burns hybrid, but I digress. Now the game has officially been released it gives me a chance to look over the finished project and comment on some of the more and less favoured updates to the series.
I’m finding it hard to see the whole game aspect of Minecraft, except for the fact that there are zombies and skeletons and you can kill them with swords, axes or even shovels and hoes if you so wish, it’s your world, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but that’s not what you’re there to do. It would be like hiring a plumber to come over to your house to piss in your sink. No, you hire him to fix your pipes (in one way or another). He pisses in the sink of his own accord. Minecraft is just as it says in the title, you mine and you craft, simple.
That’s enough of the background stuff, now onto the juicy middle of the review. One of the biggest flaws of the game is how easily the game can alienate new players who enter the game starry eyed a ignorant to the world of pain that will be unleashed when night fall hits. Somehow the new player has to figure out how to gather lumber, make into wood, make a work bench, make some sticks, make a pick axe, dig some stone, make a better pick axe, find some coal, make some torches and then seal yourself in a big hole in the ground because presumingly it’s now night time and things tend to die quickly when alone on the surface at night. Things in this context being YOU. All this without one bit of guidance. A tutorial wouldn’t go amiss guys. Mojang reacted to this by adding baby’s first achievements for doing each of the above, although that is about as effective as gobbing on a forest fire to put it out.
Ok, so we’ve ready for out underground adventure we can begin. My advice would be not to just start digging and hope for the best. That’s like randomly picking a spot in the Lake District then start digging hoping you’ll find diamonds. Nope, all you’re going to find is some angry locals and soil. Try and find an already open cave or fissure to start in. That way you can acquire the most resources with the least amount of digging. Now that we’ve found some resources we’re starting to feel hungry… What? Hungry? It’s barely been half and hour and you’re hungry!? Starving Ethiopian children can survive for days without food and you’re hungry now!? One of my pet peeves with this game (if you haven’t already noticed) is the hunger bar.
Now that all that is over and we have our resources we can now start the craft part of the game. This the moment where you have to create your own fun. Be it exploring and charting the world of Minecraft or create a 70 block high cubist impression of Michelangelo’s David. The choice is yours. On the development side it’s a rather lazy move but it’s an effective one none the less. It forces you to take on your project, the kind of thing that you spend all your spare time on just so that moment of gratification after 8hrs of continuous gameplay, only to be followed by a feeling of regret once you realise that you’ve just waisted your day off building a virtual cubist Doom Fortress.
The game should come with a health warning mentioning that each time you play it has the ability to ruin your day and shorten your life-span. Mainly due to the stress of having your pride and joy blow up in front of your eyes due to a Creeper related accident. Seriously, those things must feed off of the sheer frustration of players.
On a final note. Despite the years of my life I’ve lost and the extra gray hairs I’ve gained, I do enjoy playing Minecraft. It’s a great way of killing an hour when needs be but caution must be taken when playing. Otherwise you will be sucked into it like a triple cunted hooker (I don’t steal analogies of people, honest) and the next thing you know 7 years have past, which would be odd because the worlds supposedly meant to end next year.

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, XBOX 360)

 

This week I take the plunge into the fictional world of Gran Pulse to review Final Fantasy XIII.
I just finished it today and I must say I was a bit disappointed. With the development time that it had I was expecting alot more, which is a shame really. I’ve been a big fan of the series since early on and with Final Fantasy’s track record on new consoles (FFVII on the PSone and FFX on the PS2), I was hoping for something that blew me away like the pre-mentioned. Regrettably I ended up with an experience I would describe as “meh” at best and boring at worst.
Starting with the nitty-gritty stuff, the gameplay. The “free-roaming” section of the games outside battles would have to be my biggest niggle. Previous Final Fantasy’s made you believe that there was a big expansive world out there to explore. FFXIII turned out to be a bit linear (to put it lightly), The objective, some bad guy or chocolate or whatever always ends up being at the end of a long linear pathway. I was hoping this linearity would present us with the open world later on. If it is there I went through the whole game without finding it. “What about the Plains of Pulse?” I hear you cry. All Pulse was was a cross-road where lots of other linear corridors meet, also give that any other pathway except for the one that leads to the end is a dead end, if you think that is open-world then I pity you.
The battle system, in a nut-shell, like the rest of the game, they’ve taken Final Fantasy X as a bench mark and thrown in the good bits of XII. My problem with it is it’s inconsistency between fast pace hacky-slashy-stop-to-refill-HP frantic changing of tactics and simply bashing O until everything dead. Against some of the harder enemies and most of the bosses the game requires you to think ahead and plan for the “what if I get shot in the face with a very big laser” moments, the “dam, I’ve just been shot in the face with a very big laser, best heal” moments and the “I’m good on health, time to lay the smack-down” moments. These require switching between classes at appropriate times and against appropriate enemies, which work well against equally matched and harder opponents, but against most of the enemies and the odd boss fight you can pretty much get by just making everyone warriors or ravagers and mashing O till they die. Although the ability caps at points in the game try and still this it wasn’t quite enough to keep the combat even, and I just complained about my abilities being capped until I beat a certain boss.
The characters didn’t impress me and all felt like copy paste stereotypes without 2 strands of originality to rub together between them. Lightning, being the “cold soldier”, uncaring of the rest of the group until the convenient plot driving epiphany. Snow, being the “hero”, must save the day and must make sure everyone knows about it, while the rest of the characters kind of just hung out in the background to make up the numbers. It seems they referenced the characters from XII when they really should have used X as a guide, maybe someone at Square-Enix ticked the wrong box, or the characters were lost in translation. Can anybody who’s played the Japanese version verify this?
The story is that of any Final Fantasy. A group of people become aware of an evil threat and it’s up to them and them alone to save the world. Although this turned out to be right on the money the actual story is slightly more compelling than that. No real plot twisters like in other Final Fantasies but a the story flows with a natural progression which is easy enough to get to grips with without dumbing it down too much.
Oddly enough one thing I do think is worth mentioning is the soundtrack. It’s really good. Switching seamlessly between the ambiance of a full orchestra to a slow tempo trance and still maintaining the appropriate atmosphere of the game. I’m not usually a fan of trance and other genres of music as such, but the trancy tracks in the game would be something I would be more than happy sitting down and listening to.
Graphically it’s pretty (but then again in the current console generation what isn’t?) some pathetically outstanding scenery later on but apart from the Plains of Pulse there isn’t anything graphically that hasn’t been done better before.
You can tell when playing the game that it has taken a very long time to make, every aspect of it polished to a fine glistening finish. Unlike alot of other recent releases (Fallout 3 & New Vegas to name the biggest offenders) it’s not kicked out onto the shelves still with a good no. of bugs, which is sad in a way that a game is merited for something that should come as standard.
Now for my final thoughts. Final Fantasy has taken another step with XIII away from the traditional turn based RPG’s as demonstrated in IX and all those before it and I for one am for it. Sure FFXIII is a bad example of this but given the change in gamer demographic over the Final Fantasy lifeline, it’s just the natural evolution of the game to keep up with the times. I’ve played all of the main series from I through to XIII and I must say that it’s in the latter half I find some of my favourites (FFX taking top spot).
On a final final note, Why is this game getting a sequel? Hurry up and release Versus XIII already, a game I’m actually some what excited about.