Zero Escape Trilogy (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma) (DS, 3DS, PC, PS4, PSVITA)

OK, This weeks review is one purely for self-indulgence. This was a series that I enjoyed playing back in 2018 and is one I believe has been somewhat overlooked by a lot of people. So with that in mind let me set the record straight.

The Zero Escape series consists of 3 games. The first is Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors in which 9 people are kidnapped & held hostage by an unknown figure calling himself ‘Zero’ aboard an ocean liner. It’s here he forces the hostages to participate in “The Nonary Games” where they must solve a number of puzzle rooms in order to reach door no. 9 in 9 hrs otherwise the ship will sink. The second game, Virtue’s Last Reward is of a similar style, 9 more people are kidnapped by ‘Zero Sr.’ and is set inside a warehouse facility where the only way out is to complete in another “Nonary Games” which involves more puzzle rooms but differentiating from the first games by having players participate in what’s called “the Ambidex Game” which is a series of prisoner dilemma scenarios where players get or loose points depending on their answer. The first person/s to 9 points can escape trapping those who do not in the facility forever. Any player who accumulates negative points is killed. The third game, Zero Time Dilemma takes place when a DCom (Dwelling for Experimental Cohabitation of Mars) experiment is hijacked by masked individual calling himself ‘Zero’, the 9 individuals are separated into teams of 3 who are forced into a death game where the only way to leave is to gain 6 passwords and open the exit. A password is revealed each time a player dies.

At first I played the games in the wrong order. I started with the 3rd one then a year later learnt of the existence of the other 2 upon their release on PS4. With that I made sure to play them through then replay the 3rd one. The gameplay is fairly similar throughout the 3 games, they are separated into 2 main segments. The first is where the story is driven forward by using story boards in the first 2 games and as full 3d cut scenes in the 3rd. These sections are broken up by escape room like puzzles which must be solved in order to progress the story. Jumping between these segments doesn’t do well for the pacing of the games but the story is gripping enough that it allows for some leeway in this department.

Speaking of the story, all 3 stories are based heavily around both scientific and philosophical ideas, some of the more heavily present themes are that of morphogenetic fields (telepathy-type interconnectivity between persons) and the Many-worlds interpretation (where each decision made splits the time line depending on our choices). The games (especially in the 3rd instalment) allow the player access to the entire timeline of the game allowing you to jump back to decisions in the game and change the outcome. In some cases when you jump back the character can do what’s called a “Spacetime Human Internal Fluctuating Transfer” (or SHIFT for short). This will transfer the consciousness of a character from one timeline to another opening up more of the game and allowing from the better endings. As you can imagine once you throw both the shifting and the other scientific and philosophical concepts into the mix the story can become very jumbled and out of place, especially if you are playing through the timelines out of order (which will be almost everyone who’s not using a guide).

If you can follow the story then you are in for a great time, the story has some absolute gripping moments. One that comes to mind is when one character is trying to kill another one with a chainsaw whilst they try to fend them off with a fire axe. Another is where one player is locked in a chair with a revolver to their head and another is inside an incinerator about to turn on. The only way to save them is for a 3rd player to pull the trigger on the revolver in which there are 3 bullets and 3 empty chambers. It’s Saw-esque moral choice dilemmas like these that push the human condition to it’s extreme limits that get me very excited indeed.

Overall if you don’t mind a bit of bad voice dubbing and the stop-start story telling then the games are defiantly worth a play. The third one is defiantly the strongest of the 3 but also the hardest to follow. That being said the first one I would say was the weaker of the 3 but the easiest to follow so makes for a good introduction to the series and knowing that the following games will only get better. Anybody who loves a good gripping story should defiantly check them out. I would also say that if you are going to play them, play them in order. You’ll know after the first one if the series is right for you and you will loose a lot of background knowledge in the later games if you don’t play the ones before.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at Final Fantasy X (PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

With the release of the new Final Fantasy XVI trailer I can’t help but think about the series as a whole as well as my favourites of the series. I struggle to pick which is my favourite, that would be like picking a favourite child. I would never be happy carving a hierarchy into stone, solemnly decreeing that this is the definitive order and so shall it be for all time. I would probably make my list out of water as like water my opinions are fluid, constantly shifting from outside influences. Sure some titles will remain in familiar territory. Using the Premier League as a metaphor, FFXIII will always fall around the back of the pack and fight against relegation, FFXV despite soiling it’s underpants in the final third does enough to hover around mid-table with the likes of FFV, FFXII & FFIX, although the latter 2 do make it high enough now and again that they could qualify for the Europa League and the top spot is usually fought over by FFVII, FFVIII & todays subject matter FFX.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus (whom I always pronounced as Tie-dus, it was years later when I watched a making of documentary that it was pronounced Tee-dus), a young blitzball player from the large city of Zanarkand. His home is attacked by the gargantuan being known as Sin. After the attack, Tidus finds himself lost hundreds of miles from home. A chance encounter with the summoner Yuna and her guardians finds Tidus a way home.

The game really made you invest in and bond with the characters which makes the stories twist and the end that much more heart wrenching. As previously mentioned the world was also full, vibrant and rich, oozing with culture and lore. This is even before I mention blitzball which I spent more time playing than I care to remember. I would have loved blitzball to have been release as a FIFA-like spin off. Graphically too, FFX was a huge step up from the previous console generation and truly showed off the capabilities of the PS2 at the time.

Final Fantasy X may be a game that fights for the top spot but that doesn’t mean that it is without it’s flaws. It was the first Final Fantasy to ditch the world map for a series of smaller locations which made the world feel small and far too linear, not to the extent that XIII did but it was still an unwelcome change to the series. Also the sphere grid levelling system meant that because everyone can learn every skill & ability each character looses their unique feel in battle later in the game, with Overdrives and Yuna’s summon ability the only unique abilities left. This is not to mention some of the cringe worthy dialogue (The laughing scene in particular).

From the outset you can tell that Final Fantasy X is a very different breed from the Final Fantasy games that came before it. The use of voice overs, mo-cap & skeletal animation & 3D backgrounds being the most noticeable. This huge evolutionary leap is due in part to the series’ jump from the Playstation to the Playstation 2. The massive increase in hardware capability gave Square that unrestricted creative freedom to take the series away from the tried and tested Final Fantasy model. Although this does mean a few classic flavours of the series get left out in the cold, this however is the price of progress and whether you like it or not it’s happening. I brought up this same point in my Final Fantasy XIII review all those years ago and although I am for the evolution of the series and it’s modernising to introduce new players to the franchise I still yearn for some of the classic characteristics to come creeping back in, mainly a full explore-able world. We’ve not had one of them since FFIX. Imagine if Final Fantasy XVI comes with a modern fully rendered 3d world to get lost in, full of secret locations and optional cities and towns? If it does I think I will genuinely loose my shit.

BONUS CONTENT: Dungeons and Dragons and My New Perspective on Baldur’s Gate 2.

Despite the disadvantages that a global pandemic has on interacting with new people, I have been getting into Dungeons & Dragons. I have played a few sessions, even playing as Dungeon Master on some occasions and I have revelled in the experience, but what was I to do in the periods between? This is what drove me to revisiting Baldur’s Gate 2.

Baldur’s Gate 2 starts with the hero of the pervious game and a few companions captured by the elven mage Jon Irenicus in order to use his powers as a Bhaalspawn (A child of the God of Murder) for his own evil deeds. The player and his party must escape from Irenicus’s clutches and stop his horrible doings. Although between these two point a vast amount or very little can happen depending on the players actions.

I’ve never played the first Baldur’s Gate, opting to jump straight into the second instalment. I believe I first played Baldur’s Gate 2 in 2008/9 and I must admit I struggled in getting to grasps with the games lore and mechanics since I came in all fresh faced and bushy tailed. Although now coming back to it after a few D&D sessions I have a much clearer picture of the world and it’s workings (I originally didn’t get what the whole d4, d6, etc. thing was, I do now). To be fair I have been playing the Enhanced Edition recently which does have a few extra bits but for the most part it’s the same game.

My time learning how to play D&D has been a revelation in regards to my experience with Baldur’s Gate 2. The extra background knowledge meant I could properly tweak each party member to use specific gear and properly strategies combat so was no longer relying on blind luck and determination to get me through the game, this in term gave me a greater respect and appreciation of the game which is more than deserving of the critical acclaim it got at release all those years ago. The world is massive with so many side quests to do and different people to meet. The story is a true epic and with the Enhanced Editions graphical upgrade it doesn’t feel all that old despite turning 20 this year.

I’d defiantly call it a must play for any D&D or Western RPG fan, although since it has been out for the last 20 years I can imagine all D&D & Western RPG fans have already played it. It certainly makes me more excited about Baldur’s Gate 3 which has been on Early Access on Steam for a while now but at £50 for a game that’s not complete yet, it’s still a bit rich for my blood.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PC, PS4, XBOX ONE)

I think I stuck just as many hours into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the PSone as I did on Rayman, Resident Evil 1 & 2, Metal Gear Solid, Command & Conquer, Command & Conquer Red Alert, Crash Bandicoot 1, 2 & 3, Final Fantasy VIII & Final Fantasy IX. In fact I’m pretty sure the only game I played more of on the PSone was Final Fantasy VII. So when news reached me that the first 2 games were being remade for the current generation I was pleasantly surprised. I never would have thought the games to be that sort after that a remake was in order (than again Metacritic names THPS2 as it’s top rated Playstation game of all time), so with The Last of Us Part II behind me lets grind some rails and Ollie some magic bums.

This is normally the part of the review where I write a description of the plot of the game. Given that games pre Tony Hawk’s Underground didn’t have a plot there is little to tell here. There are several different areas, you have 2 mins to complete any number of tasks for that area varying from score so many points, pull off a certain scored combo, find some items, destroy some stuff etc. Unlock so many and you can move onto the next area.

Right from the word go as soon as I appeared in the tutorial area everything came flooding back to me. Like riding a bike my muscle memory kicked in. It wasn’t long before I was building up combos and not falling on my ass. The controls feel just as tight as they did back in the Playstation era. The use of the joystick rather than the original D-pad means that the game easily mistake left or right with a diagonal, but switching to using the D-pad gave the game a bit more of a retro feel. Something that doesn’t feel retro however is the graphics, they are much, much, much improved. The lighting effects, the rendering, the modelling, the textures. All of it modernised for the 21st century.

The game feels exactly like what a good remake should feel like. When I started playing and the classic playlist starts I felt like I’d continued off from where I had left off with the original games all those years ago, despite all the aesthetical changes. With the likes of Resident Evil 2-3 & Final Fantasy VII, they felt like new games that gave nods or had similarities to the original & with Command & Conquer I was just playing the original. THPS1+2 is the games adapting to the current generation so that new fans can enjoy the same experience we did all those years ago.

Overall I hope that this is a resurgence for the Pro Skater franchise. It was a series that fell off of my radar after the Underground games, which was a shame as I really enjoyed the first Underground game. THPS gameplay with an underdog rags to riches storyline, sign me up. It may have been a bit cliché but it was a step in the right direction. I hope that with the serge of popularity developed with the remake we can expect delve again into a spot of storytelling.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking back at Half-Life (PC, PS2)

In my Witcher 3 review I mentioned that there were people in some circles that regarded The Witcher 3 as “The greatest game of all time”. As much as I enjoyed the game I whole heatedly disagree with it being the greatest game of all time. Although this did lead me to asking myself what I thought the greatest game ever actually was. I came up with a lot of strong contenders, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto III, Silent Hill 2, Portal, but to name a few. I came up with Half-Life quite early on during my brain storming session and with each game that followed it, the less likely it seemed that I was going to be able to top it. So there you have it, Half-Life is the best game of all time and below I shall tell you why.

The story begins with our mute protagonist, physicist Gordon Freeman arriving late for work (I assume he couldn’t call it to work to let them know on account of him being a mute in the pre-email era) at the Black Mesa Research Facility. Once he finally arrives, a routine experiment on an other worldly material goes awry and causes gateways to another dimension to open spewing forth legions of alien creatures. It is up to Gordon and the other surviving members of Black Mesa to close the portals and save the world.

To me one of the reasons for Half-Life’s legacy is not so much the story but in the way it tells it. Previous 1st person shooters of the day (Doom, Duke Nukem 3D etc.) told a story not much further than, run down a corridor and shoot the things that are shooting you. This was not so much a story, but a brief followed by the game. Half-Life in contract had the story run through with the game, the world would develop as events escalated. Events witnessed by Gordon would drive the plot forward along with narrations by and between support characters.

Half-Life has immersion leaking out of it’s eyeballs. The game world, the narrative, the realism, everything about the game seemed like it was solely designed to draw in the player into a gaming experience never experienced before. The game abandoned the idea of levels for one continuous world, this made the world feel large in scope as in doing so it preserves the flow of the game. Guns and health would not hover aimlessly in mid air waiting for the player to pick it up. Health had to be gained by interacting with certain wall consoles, while guns and ammo were found either on dead soldiers/guards or found from armouries around the game. The world was interactive in ways never seen in previous FPS’s. One memorable example being at the beginning of the game where Gordon can interact with a microwave causing a casserole inside it to explode.

Even now, almost 22 years after it’s release it’s legacy stands with all the games that have come from it’s creation, both physically with the likes of Counter Strike, Team Fortress & Portal, as well as the countless number of games since that have been influenced by Half-Life’s innovation and narrative. Half-Life was the first great trail blazer that revolutionised the First Person Shooter and paved the way for others to push the boundaries out that little bit further. It was Issac Newton that said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. I believe that when it comes to video game innovation Half-Life is defiantly one of the giants in which the industry stands upon and because of this it is hard to deny that Half-Life is one of the greatest, if not the greatest video game of all time.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This review has been sitting in my drafts waiting for a slow day for the past 3 months. However now that the games are starting to dry up So with that lets get down and dirty with our Witcher (in all aspects of the term).

In The Witcher 3 we return to the story of Geralt of Rivea, a witcher which (for those of you who don’t know) is a monster hunter for hire. After reuniting with his on-again-off-again lover, the sorceress Yeneffer. She tells Geralt that he has been summoned to an audience with the Emperor Emhyr ruler of the Nilfgaardian Empire. The Emperor tasks Geralt with finding his daughter Siri who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. Given that Siri is also Geralt’s adopted daughter after having been awarded her when he evoking the Law of Surprise after saving Emperor Emhyr’s life in the past, he accepts. Geralt then travels the land picking up Siri’s trail and confronting the Wild Hunt on the way.

As previously mentioned in my Metacritic post all those moons ago, I didn’t have a lot of past experience with The Witcher series before playing the game, a couple of hours with the original game and binging the Netflix series. So I knew enough to get me through the first module but no where close to achieving my Bachelors in Witcher Studies. This was fine however, the game seems to understand that it was going to bring in new players to the series so the game includes a handy glossary detailing important people, places and events for the unknowing, forgetful or slightly confused. It broke up the flow of the game a little, like having to stop and read the ingredients list of each item I put in my trolley when I do my monthly shop, but the upside was I didn’t feel as if the game was shunning me for not being one of the cool kids. This is also true with the first area of the game being one long tutorial detailing every mechanic of the game and giving a feel to how the rest of the game was going to unfold.

All this contributes to one of the strongest aspects of The Witcher which is it’s ability to create an interesting and engaging gaming experience. The world is teeming with background and lore, which makes you want to explore each of the small villages between Novigrad and Babylon in order to learn more about the world, as well as finding more quests and things to do/kill. Truly immersing you into the Ronin-esque lifestyle of a witcher. Strolling into town, bartering your loot, tracking down the local monster that’s been terrorising the locals, kill it, mount it’s head on your horse, get paid then mosey on out of town without nary a wave or tip of the hat. Along with the addictive card game of Gwent and the treasure hunts; The world is packed full of things to do and see. Plus if you ever get tired of dicking about there is always the main story which is encapsulating and very well written, everything about it from the characters you meet to the monsters that you slay feels like it belongs in the world, nothing feels out of place.

That being said, just like every time I go out for ice cream, it is possible to have too much choice. The combat is a good example of this. There are so many bells and whistles that just serve as extra baggage. There’s a whole assortment of potions to brew with various effects as well as a multitude of spells and sword techniques to master. However, I managed to get through most of the game using mostly quick attack, dodge and the fire spell. If I needed healing I’d had enough food I’d bought from my travels between inns to open a small chain of restaurants. It must have got to the point that by the time I got to the end of the game I must have eaten enough roast chickens to label them an endangered species. Although I did start to use the weapon oils around the end of the game, mind you it was only because it wasn’t until I’d upgraded them to max level that they really had any major effect. Whist I’m ranting a bit, what are Geralt’s swords made of? I know one is supposed to be steel and the other is silver but given how quickly they break they might as well be made of polystyrene wrapped in wet newspaper. To finish off my list of gripes I have about the game, there were one or two technical issues I had with the game bugging out now and again, mind you they were no where near in number or severity of that of Fallout 3 (which is my go to example of buggy games) but there were enough to get my dander up.

Besides my small tirade of niggles the game really is one of the pinnacle open-world action adventure RPG’s, which is quite the praise especially given how dense I mentioned the genre is in my Horizon Zero Dawn review. It delivers the goods exactly where it needs to and does it with such gusto it’s not hard to see why people are calling it “The greatest game of all time”. I disagree with the statement but I’d defiantly place it much closer to the top of the list than the bottom. Overall I don’t think I could have bettered the levels of enjoyment I got from The Witcher 3 for the £13 I spent on it, except maybe with the exception of some Nitrous Oxide and the Black Books box-set.

Hades (PC, SWITCH)

I almost yearn for a day where games stop being about ancient Greece and the mythos surrounding it. Sure I understand that it’s culture and it’s stories were very well documented and preserved, making it a very easily accessible idea barrel for writers of all kinds. However, when the same games are set around the same fables doing the same thing it makes the whole pot a bit stale. Hades on the other hand, does things a little different.

In Hades you play as (as you would expect) Zagreus (got yah!) the son of Hades who has grown tired of lazing on his father’s infernal sofa eating Doritos and playing GTA and instead wants to go outside to play with all the other deity atop of Mount Olympus. Hades (the god, not the place) is very nonchalant about Zagreus decision to leave, probably because he believes Zagreus will give up trying to cut through the legions of the damned that guard the way. This is because Hades is all in favour of serving life lessons, he could just tell Zagreus no and send him to his room with no dinner after Zagreus tells him that he hates him and that he’s an asshole but nobody would learn anything, Zagreus would just hate his dad and still hold a desire to leave. However if he lets Zagreus try to leave only to find how difficult it is to do and have him return home with his tail between his legs, then that desire would be gone. Anyway, enough of deity parental strategies and lets get back to the game.

First things first, I love the art style and visuals of the game, it makes it feel like an animated heavy metal music video which scores many bonus points in my book. I also very much enjoy the looping gameplay mechanics the game offers. It seems to play with the idea that everything in the underworld is already dead, therefore cannot die. So each time you do “die” you get revived back in daddy’s lovely country villa with all your level ups intact and all the previously defeated enemies re-spawning. That’s great because it means that with each death the difficulty curve flattens a bit making the difficulty feel a bit more adaptive meaning you’ll never find yourself getting stuck at the same place for too long. The not so great thing about it is the slogging through of early areas to get back to where you were previously. What does make it interesting is you can randomly encounter other deities along the way who will lend you special powers to help you through your journey, These powers however do disappear when you die. The rouguelike-ness-ness-less-ness of the game means the maps regenerate every time you die too which in turn randomises the enemies and the other deities you meet. This keeps the game feeling slightly fresh as each play though is unique to the one before, even if only slightly. The gameplay is by far some of the best I’ve experienced this year. The controls felt very fluid and I could easily get Zagreus to do what I wanted him to do when I wanted him to do it. I could start firing a volley of arrow at my target and in an instant dodge any incoming attacks. This fluidity of controls becomes very important as the number of enemies increases.

If I have any gripes about this game it would be that the mechanics and rewards can be a bit overwhelming when first starting the game, it’s attempts to educate the player fall a bit wide of the mark but once you start playing the game and experimenting around with different types of weapons and level ups then they become a little less daunting and the variety that it creates adds to the games charm and fun. Later on in the game as you come across more enemies in each room the visual effects can obscure the view of the player somewhat and yes I am scraping the bottom of the niggle barrel to find something less than good to say about the game.

Overall Hades very much has a “Just one more” factor on it’s side which will keep players engaged for longer and longer the more powerful you become and the further you travel. It is most defiantly a game I will most defiantly continue playing after I finish my review. It also great for both those all day sessions and those moments where you only have a few minutes to spare whilst you’re waiting for your lockdown banana bread to bake.

XCOM: Chimera Squad (PC)

This was a game that I didn’t know even existed until A few months ago. If you’d like to cast your minds back to my XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review you’ll know that I found it to be an excellent play with a difficulty curve that resembles a brick wall if you don’t know what your doing. XCOM 2 I also enjoyed despite the fact that it was nearly a copy-paste of the original, warts and all. So lets see if lightning can strike not just twice but three times.

XCOM Chimera Squad takes place 5 years after the end of XCOM 2, where ADVENT (the alien-led government of Earth) has been overthrown and left earth. Taking place in the fictional city of City 31 (after writing that I asked myself if I could come up with a better city name, it took me 6 seconds to come up with the name “Cohort”) where humans, aliens and hybrids live together. You play as XCOM’s new Chimera Squad, a multi-species peace keeping special task force tasked with keeping the peace of City 31 and bringing down organised crime within the region.

I’ve heard it mentioned that the game feels like an XCOM Saturday morning children’s TV show and I have to say that it’s a very apt description, the game feels very safe like it’s trying too hard to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead of being able to recruit randomly generated recruits whenever you can afford them, the game has a handful of personalised characters air lifted from whatever B-list kids TV shows they could get their hands on. This means that there’s no permadeath, so if a squad member is downed in battle they get a attribute penalty until they spend a couple of days in training to put themselves to rights. The battle sequences too feel a lot like “Baby’s First XCOM”, they are split into several smaller battles with breach sequences between them, allowing you the opportunity to take out a few enemies before the battle begins in earnest. Both of these changes flatten the difficulty curb with a bulldozer. Although saying that, I had to change my normal XCOM approach in this game because the developers have done away with both the sniper and the demo classes. Given all the above I found myself getting quite bored, quite quickly.

It wouldn’t be much of an XCOM game without our base and in true XCOM style we have our base but in true Chimera Squad style that has also been simplified. All rooms are available from the word “GO”, all you have to do is assign people to rooms in order to utilise them. This was a problem at the start of the game, since I only had 1 team member spare I would have to halt my R&D when a squad member needed healing. Deployment is similar to the previous XCOMs but instead of countries you deploy in city districts, each district having it’s own unrest meter. If a district fills it’s unrest meter, the city anarchy meter will start filling, when that meter is full the game is lost.

Another thing that really annoyed me were the alien members of the team, they felt far too human, some of them felt more human than some of the human characters. There wasn’t any kind of a culture clash within the team. Again going back to the kids tv show analogy, they felt like the arbitrary alien sidekick who’s only reason for existing is because it scored well with the 7 to 11 year old demographic. The whole nicey-nicey feel good frictionless vibe within the squad feels artificial and staged which rubs me up the wrong way.

Overall the game feels like someone had the great idea of a SWAT-esque XCOM game (XCOPs if you will) but then marketing got their hands on it and thought it would sell better if they diluted the game to appeal to the 7-11 age range; However, In doing this they have removed the appeal of the core demographic of the series since there isn’t really any kids TV shows that appeal to adult gamers, with the exception of Ducktales.

Command and Conquer Remastered (PC)

What is it with the sheer number of remakes that are coming out this year? I’ve so far yet to play a game released this year that wasn’t a remake or a remastering with the exception of Fall Guys (and anyone who’s read my review on it will know my feelings about it) and Endzone. So here’s another one to throw onto the pile. Command and Conquer Remastered gives us a revamped version of the first 2 games in the series (Command and Conquer, and Command and Conquer: Red Alert).

Anyone who hasn’t heard of Command and Conquer obviously never played video games in the mid to late 90’s. So for those of you who were too young to remember or didn’t care for them at the time let me catch you up. Command and Conquer is a military strategy game set in an alternate history where in the early 90’s a meteor crashes near the Tiber river in Italy, on that meteorite was a substance called Tiberium (named after the crash site) which absorbed and crystallised precious metals from the surrounding soil, but in doing so terraforms the immediate area making it lethal to anyone unprotected. The coming of the meteorite was predicted by the mysterious, messianic leader of the cult The Brotherhood of Nod (Nod for short) known only as Kane, who’s followers proceed to harvest the crystals to fund the cult. By 1995 Tiberium has spread all across the planet and Nod forces control about half the worlds supply and through it’s sale amassed a global army. This rapid growth and power grab causes the UN to establish the Global Defence Initiative (GDI), a global military tasked with controlling the spread of Tiberium and to oppose the actions of Nod. Red Alert takes place in an alternate alternate history when experimenting at the Trinity site, New Mexico in 1946, Albert Einstein manages to successfully travel backwards through spacetime, arriving at Landsberg Prison, Germany in 1922 where a young Adolf Hitler was just release from prison. Einstein erases Hitler from the time line and returns to 1946. This causes the growth of the Soviet Union to go unchecked leading to global conflict with the allied forces of western Europe.

Both of these games were solid staples of my early video gaming life. I spoke briefly in my Dynasty Warriors post that I used to really enjoy linking our 2 Playstations together and playing Red Alert co-op. I also remember going to my friends house some times afterschool where we would play 1 of 3 games, Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil and Command & Conquer. So it’s safe to say that there is a fair amount of nostalgia floating about when I write this review.

On the subject of nostalgia, that seems to be the games biggest selling point given that they are exactly the same games with optional graphic upgrades as pressing the space bar switches between original and remastered graphics; However, I can’t imagine why you’d want to keep playing the game set on the original graphics since it just looks like coloured squares making other coloured squares explode into bits of coloured squares. The remastered graphics certainly make the game playable in a modern era but they are hardly anything special. Gameplay wise there is no difference what so ever, given that both games were remade using the same engine as the originals it’s easy to understand why this is. There are also a tonne of bonus unlockables for completing each mission, such as behind the scenes footage or bonus art work. I can imagine that this is mainly for the hard-core fan and that most players will give a miss. The music is the biggest improvement for me. All tracks from both games have been re-recorded by Frank Klepacki (the original composer) and the fan band The Tiberium Sons, as well as some songs from later games and some that were cut or lost from the original games.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from these games when I first heard about the Remastering. I went into the game hoping for the same feelings of nostalgia I got when I originally played them all those years ago, sadly however it just wasn’t there. As much as it upsets me to say it, the years have not been kind to the original games and sadly they just don’t hold up to modern military strategy games. They feel a bit basic and simplistic. In writing this review it’s come to me that I preferred Red Alert 2 to the original games. The story campaign was much better, it was far superior graphically and the gameplay was much more varied with a larger array of units and team perks allowing for different strategies. Most importantly however, it was more fun.

Like most of the time I revisit something I enjoyed from my youth, Command & Conquer Remastered doesn’t hold up to the place that I gave the original. The game feels that it has been released far too late to be relevant (a lot like most of my reviews). The industry has moved on and Command & Conquer feels like a bit of a dinosaur now. Maybe if the game was rebuilt from the ground up in more of a modern style (like FFVII:Remake) rather than the old game with a fresh coat of paint and a few bells and whistles stapled to the side I could get into it, C&C Remastered however is a little late to the party. It’s been 10 years since the last main title C&C game and 25 years since the original game was released. You ask me this is nothing short of a money grab in the name of nostalgia, then again would you expect anything else from EA?

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PC, PS4)

So anyone that knows me on a personal level or from the other side of a two way mirror will know that I don’t play well with others. I think I’ve got this boiled down to 2 reasons, 1; when I’m playing against others the idea that there are people out there that are better than me hurts my ego so badly that I go into an emotional downward spiral causing me to question my self-worth, and 2; when I play co-op with people I don’t know I get impatient towards others for not following my strategy and inevitably fuck everything up leaving me left looking like a twat for trusting someone with the IQ somewhere between a sea sponge and a damp cloth. If you haven’t already guessed I’m not in a good place this week so here’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.

Fall Guys is a multiplayer battle-royale where 60 players are pitted together in a series of Takeshi’s Castle/Total Wipeout esc. mini games whittling the numbers down round by round until the final round where the last… thing? standing takes the crown. When you play, you gather a currency called “Kudos” which can be used to purchase skins and costumes for you character. When you win a game you get a crown which can be used to purchase premium items.

Aesthetically the game is quite pleasing, it’s very colourful and cutesy. This is also reflected in the character you play as. You play as some sort of sentient jelly-bean that as previously mentioned can be customised to looks like a pigeon or wear other ridiculous outfits. It has a certain charm that makes it warm and inviting. Another aspect I enjoyed was it’s simplicity to play, the controls consist of run, move camera, jump, dive and grab, meaning the game doesn’t take you long to learn so you can jump straight into the action. I like that this means that seasoned veterans have little strategic advantage over new players making for more of an even playing field, however this does mean that a lot of the rounds are based more on luck than actual skill. This is especially true at the start where you have gangs of contestants trying to occupy the same places in both space and time leading to pileups of bodies tripping over each other and Three Stooges style jams between obstacles.

Despite all the nice I just said about it, overall I find the game to be very hollow and empty. Maybe a host, an audience, some commentary would make the game feel more alive. It seems to me the developers have missed the point of what makes the aforementioned gameshows fun. You don’t watch Total Wipeout to watch people be competent and complete the course (That’s what Ninja Warrior is for), you watch it to see people get sucker punched and to miserably fail. This makes for good television when it’s somebody else, not so much when the person falling to their doom for the umpteenth time is you.

To me the game lacks purpose and the rewards are massively out weighed by the effort one must put in to get them. If you win you get a crown which you can spend on items so that when you next play the game you can wear a funny hat. Imagine if Katniss, when she won The Hunger Games instead of winning her freedom she won the right to fight in the next Hunger Games dressed as cheeseburger? The game is a constant perpetual struggle with no true winners except for those who run the game making money off of watching us run in our never ending hamster wheels, enticing us to keep running by dangling meaningless cosmetic accessories in front of us like a carrot on a stick. It is a complete waste of time and completely detrimental to my mental wellbeing. All this would be forgiven if the game was actually fun to play, which it was to start with but as I repeated the same levels over and over again they became more bothersome than fun.

Is this really what video games have become in the Micro-transaction era? I feel that video game developers see gamers as nothing but wallets with thumbs, dangling us upside-down and shaking to see what falls out. Bow down and surrender your hard earned cash to the faceless corporations to which you have signed away your mortal soul for your jelly bean novelty sunglasses. I hope that an extra circle of hell is created for these people where they must play Fall Guys until they mass enough points to win their freedom, only to be beaten at the last second by hackers. Everyone, rise up against your suppressors, break the chains of oppression and demand substance, invigorating stories and enriching gameplay that will stay with you long after you’ve finished and walked away from it.

I should be feeling better next week, hopefully.