Mass Effect 2 (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

With my new computer and copy of Mass Effect 3 still no where to be seen I continue my quest through the Mass Effect universe from start to finish. This week I find myself in the gooey middle of Shepard’s story to save the galaxy from the Reaper threat. One month after the devastating geth attack on the Citadel, the galactic community struggles to rebuild. Now the Council is forced to respond to evidence that the Reapers — enormous machines that eradicate all organic civilization every 50,000 years have returned. To quell the rumours, the Council has sent Commander Shepard and the Normandy to wipe out the last pockets of geth resistance. Officially, they blame the invasion on the geth and their leader, a rogue Spectre.
But for those who know the truth, the search for answers is just beginning…
Our story begins again aboard the Normandy, Commander Shepard is out looking for geth to kick in the teeth, but not before his ship is destroyed, Shepard is killed and his body ejected into space. Not the best way to kick start a game by killing off the lead character, but what the hell, I’ll go with it. Oh wait, it’s ok because the game is actually set 2 years later where you find yourself waking up on an operating table. It turns out you’ve been revived by a group called “Cerberus” (a group of nasty men and women who believe humanity are the master race and want to keep it that way, so basically the KKK on a galactic level). They want Shepard to gather up friends old and new and discover why human colonies have disappeared.
Gameplay has changed slightly in the new installant. Where the last game was an RPG with action elements, Mass Effect 2 is more of an Action game with RPG elements. It’s very much dumbed down compared to the original. For instants there is no where near as many skill traits to level up and the micro management of equipment is gone. Not that I miss the micro management but the scaling down of the skill traits makes Shepard seem that much more generic, like the rest of the armour clad space marine protagonists from every other game in existence. There was me thinking Shepard was different, *sigh*.
It’s not just the RPG elements that have had their corners cut, it seems when Cerberus decided to give Shepard a new ship, they refused to give him another buggy to scour planets with. I guess they were scared that Shepard was going to make fun of it again for it’s broken physics and the general ball ache it is to drive the dam thing. Normally something like that I would leave with neither a farewell or tip of the hat, but in this case removing the vehicle sections makes the game loose it’s epicness. Rather than explore a small section of terrain, you now send probes down to the planets surface to collect resources. Although boring it needs to be done if you want the best ending and weapon upgrades. Their may be more planets and systems to visit in Mass Effect 2 than the original, but you really don’t see the point of heading all the way over to the other end of the galaxy just to start probing planets you may have missed. Not only this but since Shepard’s move to Cerberus he has lost his use of the Alliance Military credit card, which Shepard must have used to pay for fuel in the last game. Cerberus, obviously has strict travel expenses rules (I guess even inter-galactic super corporations aren’t immune to the credit crunch).
With the loss of the vehicle sections and the mediocrity that is recourse probing, it means that the game-play is really only held up by that scourge of the over the shoulder action based epic which is cover based shooting. It wasn’t genre defining when Gears of War did it, so I don’t get why people are so obsessed by it. Anyway, back to the matter at hand before I tangent you all to death. The combat in Mass Effect 2 is alot easier than it’s counter part, I guess this is so Bioware can continue the feel of babies first Mass Effect, which is ironic since it’s the second instalment.
Much like everything Bioware has ever done the game is well written and presents itself well, and unlike a lot of modern games, comes out of the box with very few bugs, (Every time I mention bugs at release I have to mention my disgust for Fallout 3’s bug content so here it is) Unlike Fallout 3. Everything in Mass Effect 2 glistens to a shiny finish. It’s obvious alot of work has gone into making the game. Another move Bioware has made with Mass Effect 2 which I’ve not seen being done in a long time, is the ability to import a save from the original game into Mass Effect 2, in which the choices made in the first game can effect events of the second game. This is a very clever move by Bioware since it can force most fans of the series to own all 3 games if they want to live the whole experience. Although I can also see this being a reason for purchasing the PC or 360 version over the PS3, since the PS3 doesn’t own it’s own copy of Mass Effect, the loser.
Now for my final though, I don’t think I can decide which one of the 2 I prefer. It seems what Mass Effect got right, Mass Effect 2 got wrong and vice versa. Where as Mass Effect is more in-depth but high maintenance, Mass Effect 2 is faster paced and in your face but shallower than a toddlers paddling pool. So I guess overall I have to say they are both as good/bad as each other. Next week I will not be reviewing Mass Effect 3, even if I do eventually get my new computer I’ll still be away and not be able to play it. I might just take a couple of weeks off instead… Yeah, that seems like a good idea.
On a final note, this concludes my 20th blog review. YAY!!!
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Assassins Creed: Revelations (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

Has it really been 2 months-ish since my last review? Time really does fly when you’re having fun. Anyway, I’m jumping back to Christmas just gone, during which period I was given a copy of Assassins Creed Revelations amongst other games (thanks go out to Al, Alex & Abi). So for your amusement, Assassins Creed Revelations.

For those who don’t know what Assassins Creed is, Have you been living under a rock for the past 4-5years? If so let me give you a quick overview of the series. Assassins Creed first takes place in the Holy Land during the period of the Third Crusade (1191 to be precise). You play as Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, an assassin who’s tasked with stopping the Templars from discovering the Apple, an ancient device which would allow complete domination over the minds of the masses. Actually I lie, it’s about a barman named Desmond Miles who has been kidnapped by the evil Abstergo corporation in order to re-live his genetic memories to find the resting place of the Apple, an ancient device which would allow complete domination over the minds of the masses. Revelations and the previous 2 Assassins Creed games are much the same except you’re working with the Scooby Gang and your genetic memories focus on the time of the Renaissance playing as Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, just generally being a bad-ass.

Now the first Assassins Creed was a game of two halves. Alot of great moments within the game spoiled by a few annoyances. For example, the fanatically enforced speed limits of the Holy Land which can force Templars from as far as Constantinople to come and stabath ye arse for mealy running down a street. This coupled with having to travel from the Assassin’s castle to your ancient city of the week makes for some frustrating gaming experiences. On the other hand the free roaming parkour esque running and jumping of ancient rooftops as well as the planning and assassination of targets makes for great fun. Then 2nd instalment fixed the minor annoyances of the first games, which I think made it the best game of the series. Brotherhood took the prized winning trifle that was Ass Creed 2 and started tweaking with it in a Windows esque manor, adding stuff that worked well like a pinch of cinnamon (which in the case of this metaphor is the addition of multi-player) and adding stuff that doesn’t work like Branston Pickle (which in the case of this metaphor is the text based management of your assassin minions), essentially making Brotherhood more like Assassins Creed 2.5 The Borgia Strikes Back.

Revelations continues this trend by being Assassins Creed 2.75 Return of the Altaïr. The main additions brought by Revelations are the white chocolate shavings (which in the case.. blah, blah, blah the addition of a hook-blade) and a blob of Marmite (…blah, blah Bomb Crafting and Tower Defence mini games). The hook blade adds a bit more fun to the runny, jumpy roof top flinging by now being able to zip-line down randomly placed wires, which allows for new roof top routes as well as some humorous assassinations. The bomb crafting and tower defence mini games on the other hand are both boring and unnecessary. The bomb crafting although allows for more tactical choices, it just makes the game less of a challenge, just chuck a bomb, it kills people to walk past undisturbed. The tower defence mini games force you rescue an Assassin outpost if your notoriety becomes too high in an attempt to try and give consequence to Ezio’s constant disregard for Templar right to life, but notoriety is that easily lowered it just becomes a chore and distracts you from what your supposed to be doing.

Speaking of what I’m supposed to be doing, this gives me an excuse to discuss the plot. Ezio discovers that in the Assassins base of operation’s during the reign of Altaïr there is a secret door which is believed to be sealing Altaïr’s secret library and since Ezio cannot leave alone anything to do with Altaïr and the Assassins, he heads to Constantinople in order to fine these keys. There are other sub plots, like the power struggle among the officials of the Ottoman Empire and Ezio getting himself a bit of sweet, sweet putang by finding lost books but much like the main plot are weak at best. Throughout the game Ezio has no idea what is behind the sealed door assuming that it must be something to do with the Pieces of Eden because Altaïr’s involved, although it could be just as likely that behind the door he could find  Altaïr’s stamp collection. The whole game gives off a Metal Gear Solid 4 feel. Frantically tying loose ends like David Beckham with the dirty boot bin. Ezio feels as though he’s finding all the keys out of simple curiosity, which doesn’t make for a deep or dramatic story.

At this point I would comment on the multi-player mode but since I haven’t played it nor do I have the intention to do so (not that I think the multi-player is going to be poor, I just don’t like multi-player gaming. Answering the door for my take-away is more than enough social interaction for me).

Now for my final thought. I’m glad to see the back of Revelations. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it was a bad game, it’s just now the development team can focus on produce another game that does to Assassins Creed 2 what Assassins Creed 2 did to the original Assassins Creed. Do away with the Marmite and Branston Pickle and stuff in more custard, cream and sponge because in fairness that’s all we want from an Assassins Creed game. Although, I’m not sure what to think about moving the series to the era of the American Civil War. I would have thought jumping the rooftops of Victorian London would have been more in place with the series. Meeting influential people such as Charles Darwin, Jack the Ripper, Queen Victoria, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale just to name a few, but that’s just  me.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PC, PS3, Wii, XBOX 360)

Christmas and New Year have come and gone and with it I received a wealth of new games in which to play and share my opinion on. This week isn’t one of them but it was a game that I did get the opportunity to play over the festive period. A game that has a bigger following than Charlie Sheen and OK magazine. The most recent game in a series that started off a bit bland but after a change of scenery popularity rose immediately, only to then become horribly clique and predictable. Ladies and Gentleman. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

The Call of Duty series started as most series around war do with re-enacting the 2nd World War in the most unrealistic and stomach turningly patriotic way. For 3 instalments the series found medium success never really rising above it’s peers, such as Medal of Honour and Battlefield. It was only when the series switched to Modern Warfare in which as the name suggests is about warfare in modern times did the series find that edge that first person shooters were missing. It was the first to really add a story to the first person shooter and bring it to the masses. There was the Half-Life series but that always seemed a bit too snobbish to be mingling with the console playing plebs, but I digress. Previous FPS’s had stories but they just hung around with nothing better to do. Call of Duty 4 actually integrated the story into the game in such a way that it neither outshone or was outshone by the gameplay. This included a scene that I still hold to my heart, the nuke scene, where funny enough a nuclear explosion is detonated in the vicinity of fleeing Rangers to which you quantum leap into the perspective of a lone Ranger slowing dying in the fallout, alone and unloved thousands of miles away from home. Although it adds nothing to the story as an artistic feature it is pretty amazing. After trying to bring what worked in Modern Warfare back to the past with World of War, Modern Warfare found a sequel. Modern Warfare 2 which took the intense raspberry with white chocolate swirls and real fruity bits flavour of the original and made it bland vanilla. Not that there’s anything wrong with vanilla but it is one of the blander ice cream flavours out there. Then came Black Ops which had a story so out of whack I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers were sectioned for it.

Then finally we get to Modern Warfare 3. What seems to be the finale of the Modern Warfare series (I assume this because it’s the only one of the 3 that didn’t end on a cliff-hanger). You’ll be happy to know that the series continues it’s downhill slope from the peak of Modern Warfare. It’s the same game we’ve seen before but with new faces and a slight graphical upgrade. The same old missions are there, the stealth mission, the infiltration mission, the gunship mission, the ambush mission etc. The only real gameplay difference I noticed was that some guns have 2 sights on them. Fuck me, how long do you think it took Infinity Ward to come up with that stroke of genius? Imagine the development meeting when coming up with that beauty of an idea. “Ok, We need a USP (That’s Unique Selling Point for those who have no grasp of product development) for Modern Warfare 3, Go”, “I can never decide between using the Dot of the ACOG sight. Could we have both on the same gun”, “Fuck it, that’ll have to do. Lunch Time”. You really earned your pay that day guys didn’t you?

Now when people think of the Modern Warfare series, people tend to think of controversy and pushing the moral boundaries. Man dying slowly and painfully in nuclear fallout in the first is defiantly a moving scene, although the game could have done without it, its inclusion defiantly elevated the game to a higher plain. In Modern Warfare 2 there was the shoot up of civilians in the Russian airport that got every anti-games activists knickers in such a twist that some of them are still trying to remove the knots to this day. This had the greatest in game effect out of the 3 scenes because never before in any modern game were we asked to take a gun and mow down innocent civilians. The strange thing about it was (for me anyway) was that I had no moral guilt in doing it. It didn’t have the same effect as the scene in Heavy Rain where you have to cut off the end of your finger or throwing the Companion Cube into an Aperture Science Emergency Intelligence Incinerator. I think it’s due to a lack of empathy towards the gunned down civilians of Russia, to us they are just pixels which we have been told to kill. Unlike my previous 2 examples where we have spent the game playing through the perspective of the character in question or we have had empathy towards the Companion Cube drilled into us through GLaDOS’s messages, telling us that the cube loves us and that we love it. Returning to the matter at hand we have the 3rd scene where we see a child explode in front of us. Although in truth the child basically disappears as soon as the explosion appears. This scene unlike the other two probably worsened my opinion of the game (not due to the killing of children, that’s a completely different kettle of fish). The main reason for this is it’s irrelevance to the game, if it were removed from the game it would not hamper my gameplay experience in the slightest. Sure I could play it in media sensitive mode “aka Pussy mode”, but the niggling thought would still be in the back of my mind that that scene is still there and is only there as a shock awe tactic and to try and generate media attention to which it ended up doing very little of both.

I’ve neglected to mention anything to do with the actual gameplay throughout this review mainly because if you’ve played any of the Call of Duty games past Modern Warfare you know what the gameplay is going to be like. Infinity Ward like to stick to what they know and by the looks of it Infinity Ward have been glued, stapled, riveted and welded to the Modern Warfare formula. The single player is horribly short and can easily be completed in an afternoon. The multi-player is exactly the same as Modern Warfare 2 but with a few extra gameplay modifications and game types, which is the same as Modern Warfare but with a few extra gameplay modifications and game types. It seems Infinity Ward can release an update for their multi-player and charge £40+ for it because it has a singleplayer campaign hanging off it like a tumorous lobe. Infinity Ward may not be great game developers but they are master business men. What does interest me though is the Special-Op missions. I must have spent a good couple of days or so with my brother trying to 3 star a lot of them. Like a series of puzzles that need solving, once you start you won’t be satisfied until you get all of them.

To be honest Modern Warfare 3 was never going to go down favourably with me anyway. I’ve always seen the Modern Warfare series as the very pinnacle of what I despise about the gaming industry. Soulless corporations having the ability to release any kind of mind numbing bile and have it lapped up by the unthinking masses. I like to have faith that people will buy a game because it’s good rather than because it’s adverts are plastered everywhere. Modern Warfare is one of those games where you cannot escape the adverts for it. It was plastered all over television, all over the internet, hell it was plastered all over the buildings in the city centre. This is why I usually try to rely on user reviews on how good a game is before I buy it. Professional reviewers I find are too eager to hand out good reviews to games that really don’t deserve it. I don’t really like the use of scores, even though in a perfect world they can give us a direct comparison between one game and another, but it’s just that, “In a perfect world”. All scores are based on personal opinion, for example I would give a game with a better story a better score than that which had better gameplay. Not only that, the sheer amount of criteria that has to be taken into consideration to give a fair score is massive. Then to top it all off scores will change with the passing of times. As the years pass opinions change and as they change scores would change.

Now my final thought.  The Modern Warfare series reshaped the first person shooter genre giving it that artistic flare previous FPS’s were missing. Although the first game struck gold in the end this proved to be a  disadvantage to the development team. Both games that followed seemed to try too hard in trying to prove their worth over the original and both fall flat of their faces. Although this has never been a bother to Infinity Ward since each game has made enough money to pay the Dalai Lama to run through the streets of Kent, bollock naked, singing “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”. Lets just hope that this is the end of the Modern Warfare era, because if I hear that Modern Warfare 4 is in production which includes Captain Price and Soap have full uncensored gay sex I will not be happy. Even less so knowing Soap died in the 3rd game.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

 

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Finally, Skyrim under the microscope (although given the size of the game it doesn’t really need to be put under the microscope).
I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time and must say it was defiantly worth the wait. Ever since I completed Oblivion I’ve been wanting Elder Scrolls V. It was a long wait but that just means that Bethesda could take their time on the development and polish it over to a fine shine. Although it is an amazing game and definitely tops Arkham City as my Game of the Year, it isn’t without faults. Also since people don’t like it when I’m nice to a game so I will be furiously picking knits like an OCD Delia Smith.
First thing that has to be noted is that the game is huge. I thought Oblivion was big but even that is dwarfed by the Skyrim map. I read somewhere that Skyrim was meant to be 3 times bigger than Cyrodiil. This does mean that their are time where you can feel overwhelmed and lost. This is made up for by the sheer number of missions that are possible. Sadly though bar the main quests alot of the secondary missions are the same missions repeated. Either the killing of bandits or go kill a dragon. Although the game doesn’t allow you to run out of missions they do repeat themselves very regally. Like Top Gear repeats on Dave, you’ll find the same mission repeating itself every couple of hours.
The game I must say it’s very pretty. I picked up the PC version (so I can mod it later), I started playing on the medium graphic setting and it looked pretty on that. I then later managed to turn it up to High without too much of a sacrifice on the game play and I was astonished by how beautiful the game was. I enjoy going up to the tops of huge cliffs, look out onto the lands of Skyrim and just take in the scenery like some sort of Meerkat staring off into the wilderness on the lookout for Lions, Honey Badgers and other nasty characters. Although saying that some of the textures look rough and pixelated, which is a shame given the level of detail on everything else. Although you’re going to be looking into the distance that much it’s not exactly going to ruin the game for you, and if it does you are officially a snob and need to lighten up.
Like all of Bethesda’s recent games Skyrim also could have done with a bit more polishing to iron out more of the bugs. Although the game isn’t as bad as Fallout 3 or New Vegas in the bugs in the unmentionables department. They are still noticeable. Many a time I’ve found the game crashing to desktop. I’ve also found a fair amount of time where the wire frame ran underneath the patten texture, but hopefully this will be fixed when the next updates come by.
There was a big deal about the dragons in the game being unscripted, meaning that they’re not programmed to a specific set of actions every time you fight them. Although this does sound as though you’ll never have the same dragon fight twice, it can cause a few “what the fuck” moments. For example, I was asked to break a prisoner out of a prison, preferably without being detected. I couldn’t sneak in since my sneak skill was so poor. I noticed a dragon flying around nearby so I hatched a plan to direct the dragon over to the prison and have the dragon kill the guards and I can waltz in once the dust settles and smoke clears. Sadly though my plan fell apart when the dragon decided that the angry Nord firing arrows and breathing fire on him was less of a threat than the menacing looking Mud Crabs. Stupid Dragon.
I did mention last week that I would let you how Skyrim compares with Oblivion. Although I think Skyrim is the better game, be it just Oblivion with better graphics, more snow and dragons, I still have fonder feelings for Oblivion. This is less to do with the game and more to do with how I feel/felt for them. Oblivion I first picked up on a whim, I had just got my PS3 and only had one game for it, so I wanted to quickly build up my library, I heard good things about The Elders Scroll series so it made sense to pick it up. I went into the game not knowing what to expect and it blew me away. Skyrim on the other hand, was massively anticipated and had a huge hype behind it that. This meant that the game had huge expectations and was going to be difficult to clear it’s expectations by the same margin Oblivion did. It’s alot like Portal and Portal 2. Although Portal 2 is the better game, I still prefer the 1st one.
Overall I really enjoyed Skyrim, so much so that I will be playing it some more. It has defiantly taken over Arkham City as top contender for Game of the Year. Then again with over a month until the end of the year and when I review the gaming year, there’s still a chance for a few more games to impress me. There is still the new Assassins Creed, Saints Row the Third, Skyward Sword still for me to play and review. Modern Warfare 3 also (ha ha, just a joke, it’s terrible).  This does raise the question of what I’m going to be reviewing next week. Maybe Saints Row the Third or I could jump back and review something much older. Until then, I’m going to continue escapades across the lands of Skyrim.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

 

I mentioned last week that I was originally going to review Oblivion before Skyrim was released, but didn’t get the chance to give it the re-play through it deserves. Well now that I’ve had another week to play it I think I have enough material to patch a review together. Plus I don’t want to push my review for Skyrim too far back, so here’s The Elders Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
I first played Oblivion when I first got my PS3, it was the 2nd game I ever bought for it. I instantly fell in love with the game and played the hell out of it (Although when you have the choice between that or Genji, the choice really is a no brainier). I also a few weeks ago purchased it for the PC with the main purpose of moding it. Although most of the mods I found were to add skimpy bikini’s and huge breasts (probably says alot about some of the kind of fans the game attracts).
Don’t get me wrong, Even given the things I am about to say about the game I still thoroughly enjoyed Oblivion, hence why I was so excited about the release of Skyrim. The game starts in the Imperial Dungeon for the crime of *insert crime here*. Then Captain Jean Luc Picard turns up, starts the main quest rolling and dies just as quickly as he came. Upon leaving the dungeon the story is your own. Stepping out into the big wide open world you get a grand sense of openness which although sounds like a good thing is actually the games biggest let down. The game map is huge with very little to fill it. Getting from quest to quest is in a word boring. Travelling through the same old scenery can drag on a bit, sure one may have more trees, one may have more snow, one more rain but it all feels the same and repetitive. This makes an already long game even longer, maybe too long at times. I am reminded of Gita Bellin saying “Success is a journey, not a destination. Half the fun is getting there”. Games like Assassins Creed & Wind Waker with their roof jumping and their sailing prove this. They both make travelling from A to B fun and exciting. Making you want to explore every nut and cranny of the world. It’s a trait that can bring life back to a dying game as well as a death sentence to others. Although Oblivion does have horses, they feel like getting a piggy back from an arthritis ridden quad amputee. There is also the fast travel system but that only works for places you’ve already visited. Both feel like they were added at the last minute when the development team realised “Shit, travelling around the map feels fucking boring, how can we solve this?”. All this could easily be avoided by adding more into the game. With that huge map the game feels empty and devoid of anything, just like the real countryside.
Considering that the game is a Western RPG the games interface is surprisingly friendly and easy to use. Inventory is easy enough to scroll through and use. Magic spells are easy enough to change through using the hot keys. You also don’t need a glossary on your lap whenever you pick up new weapons to make sure that they are not as good as the one you already have equipped. Levelling up is also as simple and as realistic as it gets, in essence the more of a skill you use, the quicker it will level up. The more you sneak past enemies, the better your sneak gets. Although I don’t get the whole needing to sleep thing before you go up a level. It’s as if the games giving us a half arsed excuse to make us use the beds they’ve laid all about the map.
The character creation has a fair amount of variation with each race having their own unique pros and cons, then add the pros and cons of each individual star sign. This means that whether you chose to be a Nordic Adonus or a sexy dark elf rogue the characters feels unique, meaning that the game has an essence of re-playability. Although all missions are available to all characters, this doesn’t entirely mean that all missions should be attempted by all characters, for example. For the thieves guild missions there is a mission where you have to sneak into the Imperial Palace and steal an item of immense value (although more of you probably know what it is I still won’t name what it is just in case there are people reading who haven’t played it). Doing this mission as a claymore swinging Imperial is only going to make things more difficult for you. Like trying to put a square into a round hole, although it is possible with help from a jig-saw it would surely be easier to put the circle in there instead.
Although it’s really up to you as to how long or short the game is, Once you’ve completed all the missions there really is nothing left for you to do but wander around the vast forests of Cyrodiil killing all who have the misfortune to cross your path. It’s at this point that the PC version comes into it’s own with the ability to mod the game and such a strong backing by both Bethesda and the gaming community, you can add an almost infinite amount of extra quests to the game (this fact alone makes PC gaming superior to consoles). By what I heard in review of Skyrim this has been solved by adding procedurally-generated quests as well as tasks from guild after completing their story missions meaning that all forms of gamers can enjoy Skyrim forever and ever.
Overall I enjoyed Oblivion. It is clear to see with a game such as Oblivion why The Elder Scrolls series is highly rated and why Skyrim was so highly anticipated as well as being so highly regarded by those who play it. As to where Oblivion stands amongst it’s peers, I’m not too sure. To be honest Oblivion was the first Elder Scrolls game I played and I’ve yet to play Morrowind (*gasp*). There are a number of fans that say Morrowind was better, alot that say Oblivion was better. Having only played one of them it really isn’t my place to say which one is better. As for where Skyrim sits in all this. I’ll tell you next week.

Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)

 

I was originally planning on reviewing Oblivion this week which would make sense with Skyrim coming out on Friday. Although with me starting work and university work piling up I’ve not really had much of a chance to give it a decent replay and take notes so instead I’m dragging out the first review I posted on Amazon and revamping it to version 2.0.
About a week ago on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. Charlie Higson was debating with Ekow Eshun (he’s the former director of the UK’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, just in case you didn’t know) whether or not video games could be classed as art or not? They concluded that computer games entertain therefore they are entertainment. I disagree, Video can be entertaining and be classed as art. Why can’t computer games. I’m hoping with this review I can spread my views on the debate. Although it’s probably going to have all the effectiveness of gobbing in a river I’m still going to make my point dam it. Anyway here’s Valkyria Chronicles.
First of all let me say that it is a very pretty game. With the water colour effect and the anime style graphics, you can’t help but be drawn into the beauty of the game. Also to back this up it has a beautiful score and soundtrack. So much so that I actually got a hold of a copy of the soundtrack. The song “A Love Passed on” (or “Succeeded Wish” in the Japanese version) when I first it I was breathless and almost paralysed by it’s emotional depth and melodies (I can speak Radio Four too).
That’s enough about the arty farty stuff, at the end of the day whether or not it is art it’s still a game so lets talk about that. The game-play itself is described as being a chapter based RPG although the combat is more of a mixture of real-time and turn-based strategy along with a small amount of 3rd person shooter, despite how complicated it sounds the game play does flow fairly smoothly at times. Like every game I’ve ever played it’s not without it’s flaws, when controlling a character enemies will shoot you and only you until you start pointing guns, at which point shit gets serious and enemies are too worried about finding new briefs to replace their now soiled ones to fire back. Although this concept doesn’t exactly sound realistic it still seems somewhat natural if a bit awkward to begin with. l applaud SEGA for it. It’s something different occupying a market current overloaded with so many 1st person shooters you’d think they were part of some sort of secret conspiracy to eradicate all the other game genres starting with point-and-click adventure games… but that’s just silly (yes… silly, ha ha ha). It’s a brightly coloured Poison Dart frog swimming in a bond of Bull Frogs. Sure touching it may cause death to you and others around you but at least it looks pretty (not a bad analogy that one).
The story is stereotypical of any war based anime, actually, forget the whole anime bit. Does anyone remember that slight disagreement back in Europe between 1939 and 1945 between the Allied Forces and the Nazi’s and Friends? The story is basically that but in water colour. Ok I give, it’s a bit more zoomed in than that to make it more personal and in-depth. This means you get a real understanding of all the characters, the ones that matter anyway. Their are alot of characters there that are really only there to make up the numbers but they can die at your leisure if you so wish. With a few of the main characters I developed somewhat of an fondness for which is why it feels extra bad when the plot delivers an emotional kick to the balls mid way through the game.
 
If you kind of person that find the Japanese offensive (and I don’t know why you should. They are delightful little fellows, although they are a bit weird. I mean they like dating sims) you’ll find the story offensively Japanese. In a nutshell the lead character is Welkin Gunther who’s late farther was a general in the first Europan War. When Welkin’s home gets invaded by the empire at the start of the second Europan war he enlists to the militia and captains Squad 7 in order to defend his home country because the head of the militia decides that leadership is one of the better qualities shared via genetics, or by virtue that he was the only member militia to bring his own tank.
 
One minor annoyance is having to sit through alot of cut scenes between each mission but you really don’t mind because it drives plot and skipping them would mean missing out on alot of the pwitty pictures. This minor annoyance is still dwarfed by it’s biggest problem. Hands up who likes Auto-Save? ok, I’ll assume everyone put their hands up. I do too, although apparently SEGA doesn’t. Many a time I fell victim to the onslaught of the Aryan Race only to find I last saved 3 battles ago and 60 billion cut scenes ago. I think I have the right to rage quit and give it a day or two until I start again. Despite my nit-pickings I think game deserved more attention than it got when it was released. For this I place the blame squarely on SEGA’s head for releasing it sandwiches between an array of big name games. It was released on the same say as Fallout 3 for Christ Sake. As unique as it was, it was never going to compete on the same level as that. There was also Fable 2, Modern Warfare 3, LittleBigPlanet, Saints Row 2 on the list for release within that period. Would like me to stop pointing out your monumental fuck-up SEGA? Well too bad because I still have more, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, Mirrors Edge. The only reason I had interest in the game before release was because on the off chance I found and downloaded a demo of the game. Back when the PSN wasn’t infested with sub menu after sub menu and diamonds in the rough such as Valkyria Chronicles were easy enough to find. I think I’ve made my point. Despite what I’ve just said those who have played the game seemed to enjoy it since it has a strong underground fan base, although I’m guessing it was mostly in Japan given that they commissioned and released both a manga and anime series about it as well as 2 sequels, but much to my distaste it was decided by the powers that be that the PSP was the best place for them. Who stills plays on a PSP in this day and age. I stopped playing mine a good 2 years before this was released let alone their sequels.

Now to the final point, If you are Japanese or love anything from Japan, get it because you’ll love every minute of it. Those who don’t might get a see it as being somewhere between alright and an offence to all 5 senses.
 
Oh shit I forgot I was supposed to be arguing my case for computer games being a form of art…
 
Did I mention it looks pretty?

Batman Arkham City (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

 

Finally a game reviewed which wasn’t released years and/or months ago. I’ve been spending my weekend playing Arkham City and this is what I think.
Upon writing this review I have just read that Arkham City has doubles the début sales of Arkham Asylum in the UK. Since I’m mentally stuck in the mid-Victorian era where Britain ruled the world. I like to think that the British are capable of knowing a good thing when they see one (bar the unthinking masses that watch awful television such as “Big Brother” and “The Only way is Essex”, but I digress). This act of materialism proves it. Arkham City is a good game. Not quite the game I would show off as the pinnacle of computer game evolution but defiantly the strongest contender for Game of the Year so far and with my other eagerly awaited sequel being pushed back to 2012 (Mass Effect 3 for those of you who care to read) it’s looking like it’s going to be a one horse race.
Arkham City takes what we loved from the Arkham Asylum and give us more of it. More Villains, More Heroes, More Gadgets, More Challenges, More cape “whoosh” noises. The biggest difference is that Arkham City gives us just that, a whole city in which to play with. Although the names Arkham Town or District Arkham would have been more appropriate given the size of the map but I guess they didn’t go down well with the focus group. Still, it’s bigger than what we had to play with back on Arkham Island.
With a whole “city” to play about with, Batman turns into a Sandbox game, meaning Individuo’s rule of Sanbox is valid. A sandbox game no matter how good the story will fall flat on it’s face if it is tedious and boring in getting from point A to point B. To show this I have 2 examples, 1st off the blocks, Mafia. As stories go I’ve not seen many if any gangster-based games top it but driving from point to point in what felt like a cardboard box tied to a sloth kind of killed it. My second example, InFamous, on the other hand had a story that was ok, nothing outstanding, but gliding along electrical wires and rail tracks to get between objectives was as fun as a barrel of chimps. Rocksteady looks like they copied their notes from Sucker Punch in this module and it shows in the way Batman travels around the city. Gliding around Arkham City is probably one of the things I found most fun about the game. Ducking and diving around obstacles, making that “Whoosh” sound. Almost makes you feel like a real super hero.
Did someone mention the story? No? Ok, but now that we are on the subject. I found the story to be very schizophrenic. At times it can be deep and drag you in like chocolate lesbian wrestling (especially around the end). Then other times (the first half in particular) it feels frantic and rushed as if the game is moving me on so I can meet as many characters in the Batman mythos as possible before time runs out. This is not surprising then given my biggest niggle about the game. It’s short. I played it for only 2-3hrs on the Friday, then played it again for another 3-4 hrs and found I had completed the game. I wasn’t even speed playing either, I was doing my best to mess around, try out some of the side quests, pick up a few Riddler trophies and solve a few of his riddles (I had roughly 120 of them when I finished the game). The story is compressed and concentrated as opposed to Heavy Rain which its more drawn out. Heavy Rain is more of a standard coffee while Arkham City is an espresso. Heavy Rain you casually sip at it, take your time and take in the flavour, while Arkham City, you drink it down in one go and let the caffeine go nuts on your brain.
Luckily for me my flat mate who bought the game bought the collectors edition so I’ve also had a play around with the Catwomen missions. I wasn’t expecting a whole alot from the missions when going into them because it’s release date DLC. I was right to do so because I didn’t get alot from the missions either. The story is very weak at best. Kitty’s stash has been taken and she wants it back. She’s horrible in combat, since she can only get a fraction of upgrades compared to Batman. Although her wall climb and ceiling crawl is very useful for not being seen, and when she walks her hips have an amazing wiggle.
Overall I really enjoyed Arkham City, which should be obvious enough since I did say that it was front runner for Game of the Year. Although I do wish it was bulked out a little more so I could enjoy the show that little longer, then again in the words of that child loving Nazi sympathiser Walt Disney “Always leave them wanting more”. I didn’t read any of the comic books before play Arkham Asylum or afterwards, but Arkham City has actually made me more interested in the mythos of the Batman universe. I find myself looking up less known characters on the internet such as Deadshot and The Mad Hatter, to learn more about them.
So where does the future lead for the franchise? Given the main story and how it ended, it doesn’t leave anything open for a direct sequel or even any sort of sequel at all, but in one of the side mission Batman is warned about “A coming darkness”. So I don’t know. I hear rumours that Rocksteady are interested in making a Superman game. Maybe this way I can learn more about Superman’s enemies, because currently I get to Lex Luthor then I’m stumped.

Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, PC, PS2, PS3, Wii, XBOX 360)

 

With the releases of Resident Evil 4 and Code Veronica X in HD on the PSN and XBLA this is what I have been doing with myself.
First things first. I love the Resident Evil series. It takes me back to my pre-teens, back to a time where even it’s target audience would call Justin Bieber annoying and gay. I would meet at a friends house and we would play one of 3 games, 2 of those were Final Fantasy VII and Command & Conquer, but the one I want to focus on today was Resident Evil, believe it or not those graphics used to be good. The camera angles were always horrible mind, but the one thing I most enjoyed about the series was also it’s biggest flaw, the dialogue. The dialogue was that horrible and broken that it was laughable, which made it entertaining. Like watching a film with Steven Seagal in it. You don’t enjoy it because it’s a good film, you enjoy it because it’s a horribly bad film.
As sequel after sequel were released you saw minor improvements and minor tweaks that kept the games appealing to current fans, but less appealing to people new to the series, It was like opening a novel halfway through and to start reading from there. That is until Capcom decided that the series was in dire need of a 21st century reboot. At the release of Resident Evil 4 I was comfortably set in as a Resident Evil fan boy and was outraged by Capcom taking a series I loved and remould it to make it more mainstream so they could attract a wider audience and make more money, Capcom you sell-outs. To this day I still don’t know why it’s called Resident Evil (other than the obvious that it would sell better when a well known brand is stapled to it, see Silent Hill 4 for details). It has as much relevance to the original series as Custard does to the Custard Cream. It would be like playing Pokemon as Jeremy Clarkson and calling it the Top Gear Edition.
Lets start the “review” rather than rant about nostalgia and Capcom selling out shall we? Ok. The story has no relevance to the earlier games apart from the appearance of a few old faces. Leon S Kennedy from Resident Evil 2 is back and it’s his job to rescue the Presidents daughter who has been kidnapped for some reason and rather than going along with standard American foreign policy to send in an armed force, blow up half of every city, steal a few natural resources, announce victory and claim the lives of the that country have been significantly improved. Instead it’s decided that one agent armed with a pistol and a radio with a woman inside would be sufficient. The inevitable proverbial shit hits the fan and it’s up to Leon to take down a whole bio-terrorist cell single handed and rescue the princess… I mean the presidents daughter.
The biggest step away from the franchise was to not put zombies in a game that’s series was very big on zombies. Instead we have villagers who might as well be zombies but can open doors, use weapons and engage in light conversation with each other, although sometimes big bug things can appear out of the decapitated stumps of dead enemies randomly. Another huge difference was to chuck the fixed camera and go for an over the shoulder view instead. Making aiming for head shots infinity easier but having the disadvantage of not being able to see behind you. Just like real life. Although unlike real-life when aiming Leon must stand perfectly still for reasons unknown to man. Maybe it’s one of those “Men can’t multi-task” things where if Leon were to move and aim at the same time he would have to stop breathing or something similar, but I like to think women only say that to make up for their inability to priorities.
Overall I enjoyed it. The game-play was interesting enough for me to complete it back when I first played it and memorable enough for me to buy it and complete it again when released in HD. Although I still have that niggling feeling that it probably would have been a better game if it wasn’t a Resident Evil game, if it were instead the start of a new series to replace Resident Evil instead of re-branding it for a new generation who enjoyed the films (which btw. were a series of wank sandwiches each one having more filling than the last). Then again it wouldn’t have sold as well if it was called “Secret Agent no. 65,524 vs Spaniard Villagers”, but that’s just me.
The Resident Evil series has come a long way since me and my friends took the day off school so we could go into our local Blockbusters and rent out Resident Evil 2 on the day of release. Although Resident Evil 4 is a good game it doesn’t feel like a Resident Evil. The games I fell in love with and still feel nostalgic about are not in there which personally for me spoilt it slightly.
On a final note I do recommend it, it’s worth at least a play through, just leave all expectations at the door and try to imagine that it’s just a coincidence that the protagonist’s name is the same as the cop from Resident Evil 2.
Capcom you Sell-outs.

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.

Warhammer 40k Space Marine (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

This week I’ll be taking an intergalactic look into the future with Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine.
First and foremost I think I must mention that I am not a huge fan of the Warhammer series. Not that I have anything against it, I just don’t get it is all. That disclaimer aside lets get our teeth straight into it.
The story centres around a small group of Space Marines (surprise, surprise) as they fend off an invading horde of Orks on one of the Imperial Forge Worlds. There is a sub-story but much of it may not even be there. All you have to really think about is that between you and the end of the game is a mass of enemies, they must die.
The combat is solid if at times a bit stiff, much like any modern 3rd person shooter. Feeling like the bastard child between the Warhammer universe and Gears of War. The transition between ranged and melee combat seems unnatural with our dear Captain Titus harbouring the ability to switch out a bolter and equip a bolter in but a fraction of a second. Although adding any kind of realism in this instants would just slow the pace of the game down, hence why it can be forgiven.
The game-play feels a bit schizophrenic with what can be rather large gaps between combat scenes, which can get rather boring and drag on a bit. Fans of the franchise may be more incline to keep playing because of the driving plot, but me not being a fan this was lost on me and left me feeling the game was a bit linear and plain.
The multi-player is fun with each class having their own distinctive weaknesses and strengths. I find the game options and maps to be a bit restricted giving only two types of match as of this review. Annihilation which is the first team to reach 41 and Seize Ground where your team must take strategic point, which team holds them the longest wins, with only a handful of maps the novelty wears off pretty quickly, although there are alot of unlockable armours and perks for accomplishing different objectives during the game which might keep some playing for a wile.
Overall I’d say the game was fun but defiantly not breaking ground anywhere. The game has an almost Dynasty Warriors, hack and slash feel to it. I feel the game could be better if a co-op campaign was available, because lets face it, two chain-swords carving an orks skull is always better than one.