JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle Review

So, this one came out of nowhere, huh? I’ve owned and have been playing this since its release, but only thought to review it now. Ah well, better late than never.

Firstly, some context: “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” is a manga that’s been running since the 80s- it’s split into several parts and each one follows a different descendant of the first JoJo- Victorian English gentleman Jonathan Joestar. There’s also an anime, which is currently adapting the most well-known and generally most liked section- Part 3. It’s colourful, over the top, surprisingly violent and I love it. At the time of writing I’ve seen the first two parts of the anime and read the epic (that word gets used a lot but it really is) manga of part 3 (the manga is currently on part 8), and was really anticipating the localised release of the game.

As you can probably tell from the title, it’s a fighting game that includes characters  from all eight parts- the protagonists, their allies and antagonists and condenses the stories of each part in a story mode (except for part 8, which is a protagonist boss rush). Now, I’m no fighting game expert, but I do really enjoy them, and I can do my best to review it as both a fighting game, and as a piece of JoJo fan service.

As a fighting game, it’s quite simple, particularly compared to the other JoJo fighting game on PSN- “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure HD” (Which I recommend). Feature wise it’s pretty standard fare- eight round arcade mode, versus mode (VS COM, Local and Online), a Story Mode and practice. The stand-out here (for better or worse) is Campaign mode. Story and Campaign are where all the unlocks are- Campaign gets you costumes and story mode gets you characters. More on both of those shortly. There are 41 characters in total with nine released as DLC, and they fit into five different styles-  hamon, stand, mode, mounted and vampirism. Practically though, this doesn’t make a whole lot of difference- hamon characters can hold a button to fill their super meters, Stand characters fight with stands (obviously), etc. but while it doesn’t make a huge difference it does add some variety. I said the game is simple, and that’s for one main reason: though you can control it like a normal fighting game- stringing together different button presses to form combos, activating super moves with specific controller motions- it can also be controlled with two buttons and an analogue stick. Repeatedly pressing the square button will take your character through a long combo consisting of several special moves and ending in their super, while with a 2/3 full super meter pressing L1 will activate your character’s ultra. Now as I said this isn’t the only way to control the game, but it may put some people off, particularly those competing online. I don’t have a problem with it so much though- the game does place emphasis on timing and movements, and despite the simplistic controls you can’t just pick anyone and hammer your way to victory. This will work some of the time, but will often get you a beating, particularly if you pick a character with no “ORA ORA ORA!” attack (for those who don’t know, it’s basically a whole load of quick, strong punches so fast it looks like the attacker has multiple arms).

Story mode falls rather short- it can only work with the characters and stages it has (which is uneven; parts 1 and 2 have one stage each, while parts 4, 5 and 6 have two, for example), meaning that the game’s attempts to stage important battles from the manga are lacking at best and crap at worst- all of part 2’s fights take place in the Colosseum and all of 3’s on a street in Egypt, but that’s nothing compared to part six, which is the primary protagonist fighting the primary antagonist three times in a row in the same place. Fortunately, it’s over quickly and it unlocks all of the non-DLC characters, including both versions of DIO. Campaign mode is an odd one. Basically you choose a numbered campaign, and fight either a boss character (defeating them earns you costumes, taunts and the like), or an avatar with an online tag. Various characters from the stories turn up to help you out against bosses, and one helps you by making a boss show up more often. Now for the odd part- in order to search for a boss, damage the boss and pay the characters that help you you have to use up parts of a segmented battery that represents your energy. You can pay microtransactions to buy items that refill the bar, but it refills at a rate of two minutes per segment, which I’ve found to be quick enough to not bother with said microtransactions.

So it’s an enjoyable if  mixed bag as a fighting game, but what about as JoJo fan service? Well, that’s where it shines. The characters all look fantastic- alternate costumes can sometimes turn them into different carnations of the character (DIO in particular has this- so far I’ve got regular, jacketed DIO, powered-up beast DIO and Shadow DIO). The moves are all accurate to the manga, and the special moves are almost entirely named after quotes. The outlandish poses from the manga make an appearance in several places. If you like the manga or anime, you’ll like this- it translates incredibly well into its look and style. It’s incredibly accurate. If anything, this is why you’d buy the game- I bought it to re-enact fights from the anime, mainly.

There’s a clear divide as to whether you should buy this, and the game has a clear audience. If you’re a fan of the anime and/or manga and want a game that lovingly re-creates the characters, locations, poses, moves and all in great detail while also being a fun albeit simple fighting game, this is for you- I love it. If you’re looking for a more challenging, technical fighting game, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Thoughts on: P.T and Silent Hills

Before I get into the piece, please note: “P.T” is definitely worth experiencing without any prior knowledge of its content. I highly recommend you play it yourself before reading this, for that reason and because I’ll be including spoilers as to “P.T”‘s motive and greater context, as well as some of its content. Having said that, however, what I will say is that it’s horror-themed, and genuinely scary. Use your discretion. Anyway, on with the show

So then. “P.T”:

Now, I knew going in what the game actually was, but didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro were going to make a new Silent Hill game called “Silent Hills” starring Norman Reedus (more on that later in the article), and that “P.T” was some kind of demo for it. I had seen a screenshot of a tall, looming figure standing in a hallway, but that was all. Intrigued, I downloaded it and got started.

“P.T” stands for “Playable Teaser”, and that’s what this is: what you get is an interactive experience that’s low on interactivity but high on puzzles and scares, and mainly sets the tone for what’s to come. You awake in a bare room save for a squirming, bloody paper bag. Upon leaving, you find yourself in a hallway- turning the corner leads to another hallway with a bathroom to the side, and a door that leads down to the basement, causing you to loop back around to the first hallway. This is the entire map of the game. You hear on the radio the story of a man who murdered his wife, son and daughter, and it quickly becomes apparent that’s key to what you’re going to experience.

As you move through the loops, things start to change- sometimes there are puzzles, sometimes you’ll find something horrible, sometimes you’ll see something incredibly threatening leering at you before disappearing into the darkness. Sometimes you may even get attacked by something ghastly. As you progress things get increasingly dire and more complicated to complete, ending in a puzzle that much of the internet has agreed is randomised- Kojima has stated he wants people to take ages to complete the whole thing. The amount of variety, tension and sheer fear that can be packed into two hallways and a room is remarkable- as I trampled back and forth down the hallway looking for the next puzzle solution the act of turning around to go back the way I came brought me more tension than pretty much any horror game I can mention. The atmosphere is amazing- you never feel safe, and every loop hurtles you into the unknown as you drag yourself forward, skin crawling. The imagery can be a little hit and miss for me (SPOILERS) – the grisly looking woman sneaking up behind you, grabbing you and grimacing at you was scary, but not very “Silent Hill for me- it was too much of a jump scare. What worked wonders were the weird, misshapen fetus lying in the bathroom sink crying, the bloody fridge suspended from the ceiling with ropes and apparently containing a crying child and the looming figure standing in the hallway. They were beautifully horrible examples of Silent Hill imagery (SPOILERS END), but overall it was fantastic. It’s largely subtle, and a lot better than what the series has shown in recent years. Combined with that story of the man murdering his family the whole thing feels disturbingly personal- tying into the long-running idea that Silent Hill as a town uses the series’ protagonists’ dark pasts against them. For a free interactive teaser, this is incredible work- a lot of love and effort has clearly been put into it, and as a result it’s a genuinely scary, interesting experience that, if it’s any indication of its tone and stlyle, makes me very, very confident that “Silent Hills” will be a return to form. Speaking of which:

Norman Reedus in a Silent Hill game made by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro? I’ll have some of that, thank you very much indeed. I love Kojima’s work (for those who don’t know, he created Metal Gear and he’s been heavily involved with every game in the series) and I think Del Toro will bring a really interesting flair to the horror (“Pan’s Labyrinth” showed me he’s got a real knack for horrifying imagery, both fantastical and realistic), and having played “P.T” I think it’s going to be amazing. The trailer for the game just shows Reedus walking into a town, so I can’t really comment on that, but the playable teaser shows that “Silent Hills” is set to be one hell of a return to form, and a horror game to watch. This is joining “Metal Gear Solid V” as my two most anticipated upcoming games.

I am so up for this.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4 : Amid the Ruins Review

Christ, this was a bleak one. Spoilers for episode 3 to follow

Picking up immediately where episode 3 ends, “Amid the Ruins” picks up with Clem and co. attempting to navigate the horde of undead (with one of the most time-restrictive gameplay parts in this series) to escape Carver’s group. Most of the story is spent where they end up- holing up to rest and deal with Rebecca’s imminent baby. As per usual the choices here are excellent, particularly one that conflicted everything I’ve done as Clem so far. Something I didn’t really care about myself, but seeing as I was role playing as Clementine it was a hard choice to live down. It’s becoming increasingly hard to talk about each episode considering the gameplay doesn’t change and as a story based game it’s hard for me to avoid spoilers, but what I will say is this:

The pacing in this episode moves from very tense to slow and calm. Comments are made on the subject of Clem looking out for herself at the expense of the group. Kenny’s character development takes a dark turn. Speaking of dark, this episode is one of the darkest of the series. Situation after situation comes and goes and leaves you feeling empty and depressed, and it all feels like it’s working towards setting up the inevitably horrible conclusion in episode 5. Much like every episode this series “Amid the ruins” continues to show off just how good Tell tale are, and the game is still a crushingly bleak joy to play every time I install the new episode.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

DLC Reviews: Assassin’s Creed 4 Freedom Cry and Batman: Arkham Origins Cold, Cold Heart

Finally catching up on two pieces of DLC I want to talk about: AC4’s “Freedom Cry” and Arkham Origins’ “Cold, Cold, Heart”.

Firstly, Freedom Cry:

Now also available as a stand-alone release, “Freedom Cry” features AC4 protagonist Edward Kenway’s quartermaster, friend and actual assassin Adéwalé getting caught in a storm and ending up in Haiti. Finding the area filled to the brim with black slaves, Adé sets out to rescue as many as he can and undermine the slavers in the area, with assistance from the “Maroon” resistance. The story itself is quite short (it’s reminiscent of a less bombastic “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon”), the map is a decent size and nicely varied (One main town area, some jungle and a whole lot of ocean to sail), and the gameplay is largely the same, save for one main difference. That one main difference? A major part of the game is freeing slaves. Some slaves are working. Some are being auctioned. Some are working on a plantation, or being transported on a ship. Doesn’t matter where they are, they need saving. Essentially this is Catcher Freeman: The Game. Or, if you’d prefer: Pirate Django Unchained.

Freeing slaves is immensely satisfying and for me, is worth the price alone. It got to the point where I wasn’t getting missions done because new slaves kept popping up for me to free by murdering slave traders with a machete. They serve a gameplay benefit too- rewards are given for certain amount of freed slaves, leading up to free ammunition and better weapons. Speaking of weapons, Adé takes a different path- a huge machete for melee and a blunderbuss in place of pistols- it takes longer to reload, but has a wide spread and is powerful. Having said that, combat doesn’t feel different to AC4- it’s the same old “Parry and counter kill” routine, but then why would you expect something different in this situation?

Any negatives? Well, it has the same main problem as every other game in the series- the stealth is terrible. Fortunately there isn’t a whole lot of it, but it’s still really frustrating, particularly considering AC4’s penchant for tailing missions makes a comeback. The story also isn’t up to much, and the whole thing feels a bit insubstantial.

Worth a look? Well, it depends how much you want to murder slavers and free slaves. The map is a decent size, the core gameplay of sailing and murdering holds up well, and the new angle of an ex-slave freeing slaves is a great one. I say check it out.

Cold, Cold Heart:

Similarly, “Cold, Cold Heart” offers the same gameplay as its core game but with some interesting new tweaks and situations. The set-up will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen the Batman TAS episode “Heart of Ice” (If you haven’t, go watch it- it’s fantastic): Bruce Wayne is developing a business relationship with humanitarian Ferris Boyle, hitherto unseen villain Mr Freeze makes an attempt at Boyle’s life, and Batman sets out to stop him, along the way uncovering Mr Freeze’s tragic back story and his past with Boyle. Now “Arkham Origins” also borrowed from a major Batman story for its Joker origin story, but I feel it works better here. While playing through the DLC I realised that I do like Mr Freeze, but for me his limit is this very story: he’s a good villain while he’s attempting to (SPOILERS FOR THE DLC) find a cure for his terminally ill, frozen wife and get revenge for her continued predicament (END OF SPOILERS), but once this story has come to a conclusion he stops being interesting. Fortunately the story is translated to the Arkhamverse rather well, and is very fitting of the main game’s origin-story tone. It doesn’t hold any surprises for those who’ve seen “Heart of Ice”, but it’s still worth re-visiting, and for those coming to it fresh it’s definitely worth a look.

On the gameplay side, you’ve seen it before. The best and main new addition is the “XE” (Extreme enviroments) suit (pictured above); a hulking, “Court of Owls”-esque batsuit that protects Bruce from extreme cold and allows him to generate heat through his gloves. This is a very cool new addition, but that’s it. The game also opens with a playable Bruce Wayne section a la “Arkham City”, and it’s handled well. These two things make the DLC worth a look in my opinion, but if you’re looking for something new and fresh for “Arkham Origins”, you won’t find it here- this is more of the same with an interesting new situation and a badass new suit.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Last of Us: A re-review (Also a brief word on the remastered version)

(Picture taken by me via PS4 share. All rights of the game and the picture’s contents belong to Naughty Dog)

Well then. Shortly after its release I reviewed Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us” and, although I thought of it as a good, enjoyable game I had some issues with it: I had a problem with the pacing of its story. I didn’t care about some of the NPCs and I felt the game had been incredibly over-hyped. I played the game a lot more and ended up putting it on my game of the year list, but now the PS4 “Remastered” version is out and I’ve finished the game five times overall (four on PS3, once on PS4) I feel compelled to share my updated thoughts on the game as a whole. Also I’ll be briefly commenting on the remastered version over the original.

Firstly, my original reviews of the main game and its story DLC “Left Behind” (Included in the remastered version) can be found respectively:

http://thereviewingfloor.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/the-last-of-us-review/

http://thereviewingfloor.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/dlc-review-the-last-of-us-left-behind/

Anyway, the remastered version. The main differences here are the inclusion of all the PS3 version’s DLC (including the most recent “Grounded” difficulty level) and its graphical improvements- the game now runs at sixty frames per second as opposed to thirty, and generally looks sharper and more detailed. Now, I’ll freely admit I don’t know anything about frame rates, and my bespectacled eyes
couldn’t point out the differences to someone. However, I genuinely can see a differences here. The whole game runs a lot smoother here- both gameplay and cutscenes, and it’s a big improvement. The game looked amazing on PS3, but does look sharper and more detailed here, almost surprisingly so. This combined with all the included DLC, and the quality of the game overall makes it worth a purchase, even for those who already own it on PS3- if you own a PS4, you need this in your collection.

Right, now onto the main game itself.

Upon its release a how lot of praise was thrown at “The Last of Us”. A lot of people gave it game of the year. Some called it the game of the last console generation, and best game on the PS3. That’s a whole lot of hype, and as I said earlier- I didn’t buy into it. Having finished the game five times now, I have to say- I agree with at least part of it. It IS the best game on the PS3, and it’s definitely one of the best games of the last console generation (I don’t think there is a best game of the last generation- that’s far too hard to narrow down), and here’s why:

Gameplay:

As close to perfect as the “Action adventure” genre gets: good stealth with options and enemy reactions that are realistic but fair. Melee combat that feels weighty, brutal and satisfying. Shootouts that take into account people firing guns with experience rather than training, bullets making your character stagger, and limited ammo meaning you have to constantly switch your tactics. Speaking of which, the game offers choices so naturally and fluidly- during a fight you can (and will) run and hide, shoot, melee, stealth kill and employ explosives- each choice feels legitimate and switching between them is never explicitly told to you by the game- you’re just left to figure it out. Every enemy encounter is fantastic- as you make your way through the game you’ll use your various skills and crafted weapons in a variety of ways to deal with each situation in a truly dynamic way. Whether it be shooting, stealth, melee, explosives or its crafting system, it does every equally well.

Story: (Spoilers)

Having experienced the story start to finish five times now, it’s definitely grown on me. The moments I considered stand-out the first time around (the opening, the conversation in the house during autumn, winter, the ending) are still masterful, but I’ve come to appreciate the story as a whole a lot more, as well as more individual moments. The whole set-up of Joel and Tess’ relationship, then the rest of the game showing how Joel operates alone, with no backup (at least until Ellie gets a gun, which isn’t for a while) and nothing left to live for besides his charge is a great character study. Ask yourself at some point before the Dam level: what does he have to go back to? Every new character adds something different to the story, whether it be Bill’s paranoid, pragmatic approach to his situation or Henry and Sam’s optimistic but dark reflection of Joel and Ellie’s journey. The shift between seasons feels smoother now. I notice the small things in each area and they all resonate in the grand scheme of things. That ending run to the elevator, Ellie in Joel’s arms, is still a troubling, stirring moment, and the ending is still makes me well up. Put simply, the story is amazing, both in terms of broad strokes and its fine details.

Even if it did take multiple runthroughs  for me to see it, I know now- it really is something special. The gameplay is a fantastic mixture of different styles and the story is an emotional, expertly crafted look at a post-apocalypse world. It’s the best game exclusive to PS3, one of the best games of the last generation, one of the best games I’ve ever played and one of my personal favorites.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, and though it may seem petty:
1) They’re not zombies. They’re living people infected with the cordyceps fungus
2) People who say that the game Is/Practically is/Might as well be a film: Shut the hell up. You’re going to say that in a world where David Cage exists? Piss off back to whatever cesspool you crawled out of.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 5 – Cry Wolf Review, and a look back at the season as a whole I guess

It’s been quite a journey this season for Sheriff Bigby Wolf. There’s been a whole lot of fighting, investigating, smoking and (in my case) bastardry on the way to his final confrontation with The Crooked Man. Every one of the four previous episodes has been a triumph, but does the season 1 finale do justice to everything that preceded it?

The episode starts where episode 4 left off- with Bigby right in the belly of the beast confronting The Crooked Man and his gang. You very quickly find out exactly the identity of the killer you’ve been chasing, and the pace never slows down from there. Apart from one small section and the episode’s ending, most of the events here are action sequences as Bigby pursues The Crooked Man and tears apart anyone standing in his way. It feels noticeably different to the previous episodes as there is very little detective work to do and not a whole lot of choices to make, at least early on, but it makes sense given the climactic nature of the episode. The action scenes are well done as always apart from now and then when my input on the QTEs wasn’t recognised, annoyingly. It didn’t cause any real trouble though. Stand-outs here included a wolfed-out Bigby chasing a car through the streets and over the rooftops, and a hectic fight scene in which Bigby finally shifts into his final form: a massive, quadrupedal wolf, as seen in the comics and poster for the episode. Though it’s brief, it’s great to finally see the literal Big Bad Wolf in action. As I said, there aren’t a whole lot of choices this time around, but there ones that are here are decent. As I’ll elaborate on later I’ve found my choices to be rather consistent, but I still appreciate them- they’re something telltale do well. The episode tries something new later on in the form of attempting to win a crowd over to your side, despite the various bastardy deeds you may well have committed, and one choice that led to me receiving the message “Fabletown is afraid of The Big Bad Wolf” (I’d already won the crowd over though, so it was all good). The whole thing ends on a big sequel hook, which leaves me in two minds: I’d be very happy with a season 2 of TWAU, but as an ending, I’m really not a fan of sequel hooks- they never sit right with me.

So, is it any good as an episode? Well if you look at it stand-alone, it’s definitely one of the weaker episodes for me. The action sequences are always best in this series when they’re supplementing conversations. It has its moments as an episode, but there are better ones. The third and fourth episodes in particular really standing out for me. As a season finale it’s damn strong, feeling suitably climactic with high stakes, and bringing this specific chapter of the story to a close.

Now, as for the season as a whole:

I loved Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” season 1 (I’m really enjoying season 2), and this carries on the studio’s high standard. Though I often had more trouble with the choices in TWD, I found those in TWAU easier: I’ve been a bastard. A psychotic, malicious, power-abusing bastard, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I basically made my Bigby Wolf a stand-up guy with women (with one exception, she knows who she is), not take any shit from men and offer no mercy to those who cross him. I’ve been a consistent and content user of the [Punch Him] dialogue option whenever it’s been available, and I’ve done quite a few things that many would consider “Over the line”. That was the role I’ve played with Bigby, and I don’t regret any of it. I don’t have a lot of experience with the “Fables” comic, but I’ve read a bit, and I love the way Telltale have written him here. The way they’ve created the world and filled it with characters they can have die creates suspense not often seen in prequels, and it pays off rather well. The detective elements are well-handled, particularly in the excellent “A Crooked Mile” in which a ticking clock mechanic is introduced, the combat sections, though handled with QTEs suit the game well, and as always, the choices are excellent. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this season of “The Wolf Among Us”, and I’m definitely looking forward to more of it.

Oh, and that main menu. Christ, that main menu. I’m serious- it’s worth mentioning. Go check it out.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Watch Dogs Review

Ah, “Watch_Dogs” as it calls itself- one of the most hyped games in living memory- a game that was thought by many to be the sole reason to buy a next-gen console, and “The first truly next-gen game”, whatever the hell that actually means. Fortunately, dear reader, I’ve been rather successfully (if I do say so myself) ignoring all the immense hype for the game, which I feel will help in this review. Apart from the very first trailer for it, I’ve ignored the other trailers, the apparent graphical downgrade, the delays and the five special editions for the game, partly because I knew I’d end up getting the game (at least to review it) and therefore didn’t care about the press for it, and also because I knew that the final game could ever live up to the sheer hype- said hype was so immense. Question is; is “Watch Dogs” actually any good? Well, read on.

So it’s the near future (I think) and Chicago is home to an operating system called “ctOS” that controls pretty much everything electric in the city as well as having everyone’s personal information (though due to pesky game limitations it can only bring up one piece of apparently “important” information at a time.) on file. This was an extraordinarily stupid idea that lead to people like protagonist Aiden Pearce being able to log into and control all sorts of devices and steal all sorts of personal information with incredible ease. Why was ctOS set up? I don’t know. It may have been mentioned in an audio log somewhere, but as far as I saw it wasn’t justified. Anyway, Aiden Pearce is a hacker whose niece is murdered in an attempt to scare him after a job he pulled, and he’s trying to find out who killed her. Well, I say that, he actually finds out who killed her at the start and has him held hostage for the entire game while the story desperately attempts to find things for him to do. The story in “Watch Dogs” is really nothing special. For starters Aiden is given no real backstory- he’s a skilled infiltrator, marksman, hand-to-hand combatant and driver bordering on military level, but the game never explains where he learned these skills. I’m also supposed to sympathise with him despite the fact he’s brought terror and destruction to his family and is an emotionless, manipulative twat, despite apparently fighting on behalf of the citizens of Chicago. The game has an “inFAMOUS”-style morality meter that didn’t seem to amount to much at all, and certainly didn’t affect the story- throughout the game Aiden was resolute in his own awesomeness as “The Vigilante” despite the large number of police and civilians I had murdered in cold blood. The actual mission-to-mission story is nothing special, but largely in-offensive. Aiden grumbles and murders his way through several break-ins and gang hideouts as he’s blackmailed into various jobs, but none of it ever really had any weight to it. After a while the whole thing took on a perhaps unintentionally dark quality as it dawned on me that Aiden is pretty much just a monster in the “Joel” mold- a man whose only skills extend to violence, coercion and general bastardry, and for a while I quite liked the Nihlistic feel to it. This was then ruined by Aiden’s sister and nephew being pretty much okay with everything he does, but hey-I had it while it lasted.

Gameplay wise, it’s decidedly hit and miss. The whole thing feels rather similar to Ubisoft’s own “Assassin’s Creed”, but with two stand-out elements, which I’ll get to shortly. The gameplay is largely stealth with silenced weapons, with a fair bit of driving, shoot-outs and hacking elements also. I use the word “Elements” because the hacking really isn’t as integral as it was made out to be. Whenever the game forces you to hack things, it’s usually hacking into a camera then jumping from camera to camera to follow someone or get a bead on an area, or just hacking into a computer or box. All of this is done by pointing at something and holding down a button. Outside of the mandatory, hacking mainly consists of making chest-high walls pop-up, or affecting things on roads in order to disable people you’re chasing or being chased by. The one major problem with the hacking is the “Disable Helicopter” move- something that works fine when on foot, but is seemingly impossible while driving. Overall the hacking is nothing particularly amazing, but where it really comes in handy are the game’s optional stealth sections, especially the gang hideouts. These are easily the best parts of the game- you scan the area to find the target that you’re supposed to knock out. You then have to knock them out and either escape or kill all of his henchman, either using stealth or all-out aggression. These stealth sections are reminiscent of “Splinter Cell Blacklist” (also made by Ubisoft. It had fantastic stealth)- the climbing, smooth shooting and melee takedowns all work brilliantly, and these sections are where I had the most fun with the game. When you’re free to do things your own way with a mixture of murder and hacking, the game is really rather decent. Nothing new, but certainly very competent. However, there’s one gameplay element that really sours the rest of it.

Forced stealth sections. Bloody hell the forced stealth sections. Ubisoft have previous for this- the forced stealth sections in every “Assassin’s Creed” game were also bloody awful, and the ones here are no exception- be spotted by anyone, anywhere, for a second and you’re busted. At one point I was tracking a briefcase as it was exchanged among a group of gangsters in a pubic walkway by the sea. I wasn’t supposed to be seen, and at one point a gangster did see me, pulled a gun and asked “What are you doing here?!”. IN A PUBLIC AREA. This was a pretty jarring lapse in logic and common sense, as the game stretched logic to fit in with the mission. During another mission I ran into a guard and he spotted me- the game then decided I had failed, and removed all control from me- the scene faded out as I stood there like a lemon while the guard shot me repeatedly. Now, had the game not removed my control I could have very easily stopped time with my dumb bullet time ability (that’s a point- you have bullet time for no adequately explained reason), raised my silenced pistol and shot him right in the face, like I would do during a gang hideout mission. But no, apparently that just wasn’t feasible. This is not how you do stealth, guys. It’s not enjoyable, it’s not fair, and it makes no bloody sense.

Any other problems? Well, during a mission late on in the game, I was supposed to be guiding someone to safety via security cameras. I instead sprinted into the building, killed a few goons and found the person in question only for them to COMPLETELY IGNORE ME FOR NO REASON. Nice one, guys.

Overall, “Watch Dogs” has its ups and downs. The optional stealth sections are great- the gang hideouts in particular play like a more restrictive version of “Splinter Cell: Blacklist”, which I love. The driving is fine, and even manages to have one rather initiative move where you turn off the engine to hide from the police, the shooting is decent, and although not essential, the hacking is well-implemented. What hold it back are the story being bland and not being affected by the player’s capacity to either be a man of the people or a psychotic bastard, and the utterly terrible forced stealth sections, that are entirely unwanted and very annoying. Is the game any good? It’s alright, yeah. It’s not the revolution people seemed to think it was going to be, and it certainly doesn’t live up to the massive hype. It’s really nothing special, but if you absolutely must pick it up there is fun to be had. There are better Ubisoft games on next-gen, namely “Assassin’s Creed IV” and “Rayman Legends”. They’re much more worthy of your time.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Thoughts on: The E3 2014 Trailer for “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

The newest trailer for my most anticipated game was leaked earlier today- “The Phantom Pain”. For those who are unaware, I’m a huge “Metal Gear Solid” fan, I’m incredibly hyped for “The Phantom Pain”, and judging by the trailers it could well end up being my faveourite game of all time, should the story be as good as it looks and the gameplay be as good as it was in “Ground Zeroes”. Anyway, that trailer. I’ve seen both the Japanese version and the English one, and I wanted to give my thoughts on what I saw. I will be talking explicitly about what happens in the trailer, so if you want to see it fresh then avoid this piece. I’ll be breaking things down into points- things about the trailer that stood out for me, not necessarily in chronological order.

The Song

“Nuclear” by Mike Oldfield playing throughout most of the trailer provides a suitably somber, dramatic backdrop to events, with the chorus standing out: “I’m nuclear, I’m wild. I’m breaking up inside. A heart of broken glass. Defiled. Deep inside the abandoned child. Of course the song wasn’t written for the game or anything, but it seems very apt, particularly given the tone of the trailer.

Bloody Big Boss and the horrific aftermath

One of the first shots in the trailer, and one that’s returned to later. A scorched, harrowing aftermath of a battle with corpses strewn about all over the place. Snake walks through the landscape alone and bloodied. In the later shot his face is completely covered with blood, and, on his knees, he tilts his head back and roars at the sky. This looks to be pretty late on in the game, and I imagine this will be one of many “tipping points” Snake has in the game. I can’t speak for who Diamond Dogs were fighting, but as I said- a lot of the battlefield is scorched, with many burned bodies, burnt-out cars and helicopters. It suggests some kind of powerful explosive. It could well be a nuke. That sounds unlikely, but Snake has survived three nuclear explosions in his life, and although he was never this close, he was quite nearby the second two.

Diamond Dogs Memorial

A powerful scene not open to much interpretation, this one. Snake, the now-rescued Kaz and a small group of Diamond Dogs soldiers watch over a funeral pyre for a number of coffins draped in the Diamond Dogs logo. The plan is to throw their ashes into the sea, but instead Snake grabs a handful of ash and rubs it on his face. It’s a bold shot, and establishes Snake’s mood during the difficult time. When did the soldiers die? My thoughts are during the ending of “Ground Zeroes”- Snake presumably put any memorial on hold while he rescued Kaz, so this would make sense. This scene is a great one in showing just how hard Snake and his men take the loss of their comrades. It’s combined with another scene I’ll get to later. Also, not only is Kaz present, but…

Outer Heaven

…they’re standing on a whole new Mother Base- now called “Outer Heaven”- Big Boss’ base in games set later. There’s a shot of Kaz and Snake admiring it from ground level, a short clip of Ocelot presiding over three soldiers undergoing target practice (one guy is shooting from the hip), and also two soldiers fighting while a crowd watches. I can’t quite decide whether I think they’re training or genuinely having a scrap, but the next point on the list might clear that up somewhat. I like that they have a new base up and running (Kojima did mention this before hand but it slipped my mind) and it’s nice to see Ocelot helping out.

Self-destructive Snake

A short one, but a very interesting one. That fight I mentioned is broken up by the big man himself- one of the soldiers pulls a knife. Snake grabs the dude’s arm and, much to the soldier’s distress, Snake sticks it into his own chest. Now two theories come to mind for me here. The first one is if it’s an actual fight, and Snake’s making some kind of “If you hurt each other, you’re hurting me, and us all.” demonstration to make them cut it out. The second is if it’s training, and his point is “Knives aren’t welcome here- it could go horribly wrong, like so.” I could be wrong in either case, but that’s what comes to mind. Intriguing, anyway.

Big Boss vs Eli

This is a very big one for me, despite only taking up a short amount of the trailer. Eli, the little boy shown in the “Red Band” trailer last E3, and thought by many to be a twelve year old “Liquid Snake” (one of the men cloned from Big Boss’ DNA and “brother” to Solid Snake) swings at Big Boss with a plastic chair before pinning him against a wall with it and pulling out a blade, much to Big Boss’ seemingly genuine worry. Soon after this there’s a shot of Eli running and then lunging at Big Boss, only for the latter to CQC the former to the floor and apparently slam the blade into him. This one raises a lot of questions for me. Does Eli know who Snake is, or is he just trying to escape from somewhere? If he is Liquid Snake, does Big Boss know Eli is his “Son”? How can Big Boss be so easily overpowered by a twelve year old? Is he in shock from seeing his “Son” for the first time? Is he unprepared what with having to fight a child? What about the apparent stabbing? If Eli is Liquid, it’s unlikely he stabs him, and it obviously wouldn’t be a killing blow. My thought? That blade’s going into the floor next to him, and the next words out of Big Boss’ mouth are some variation on “I’m not here to fight”. Also, this is now the second trailer for “Phantom Pain” in which Snake possibly murders children (the first being the cage full of African kids in the “Red Band” trailer. I’m still really not sure if he’s shooting them or not, but that’s an opinion to be explored at another time.) Also, Eli has what looks like “NEVER BE GAME OVER” written on the back of his top.

Quiet

Firstly, a woman who appears to be “Quiet” (the scantily-clad sniper from the “Red Band” trailer) dressed in battle fatigues limps away from an assailant, only for said assailant to grab her and dunk her head under water while her hands are tied. In a later scene, a woman that definitely is Quiet shows off some impressive hand-to-hand skills; using a downed attacker as a springboard to launch herself up onto another assailant with one foot- bouncing off him to pounce on a third, whom she apparently kills or at least incapacitates with what looks like a blow or slash to the throat, though it isn’t directly shown. If the woman being submerged in water is indeed Quiet, this is probably part of her backstory which Kojima said will make everyone who made a fuss about her clothing feel ashamed, which makes me think: Is she dressing that way to lure people into a false sense of security? I’m really unsure of the reason why, particularly as Kojima said it was partly because he wants people to cosplay her. I’m eager to find out. As for the latter shots, she’s got some pretty slick moves, and I look forward to seeing her in action more.

Even in death we are Diamond Dogs

The really moving part of the trailer: back to that shot of Snake with the ashes on his face, Kaz asks “We’re not burying them at sea. What then?” The following exchange happens: “We’ll make diamonds from their ashes. Take them into battle with us.”
“A shining light to our brothers in arms. Even in death…”
“…we are Diamond Dogs.”
Again, I love this part for showing just how hard Big Boss is hit by the death of his men, and how highly he thinks of them. It also brings a beautifully poignant context to the name “Diamond Dogs”. It’s not just a David Bowie reference.

The trailer has its share of awesome title cards like the rest of the game’s trailers, this time being: “Tormented by phantoms” over a MSF logo, “Spirits of Ground Zeroes” over an XOF logo, “Time for Retribution” over a Diamond Dogs logo and finally “Venom Awakens” over the new Outer Heaven logo

Skull Face and Metal Gear

Snake and a blindfolded Skull Face (the fantastic villain from Ground Zeroes) get out of a jeep inside a hangar containing what is either the recovered “Metal Gear Zeke” from “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker”, or a newly created metal gear. Either way, Diamond Dogs has a metal gear, and they now mean even more business than they did before. What really intrigues me here is Skull Face- what’s he doing in Outer Heaven with Snake? Is Snake just showing off his arsenal in an attempt to intimidate? Or were his claims about him and Big Boss going way back legit? I love Skull Face as a villain and I’m really interested to see where he fits into everything.

(I also want to point out Snake taking out a knife and smiling at it while next to what appears to be an unconscious Chico, Snake putting a bag over Huey Emmerich’s head and Ocelot injecting him with something, and Snake shooting four soldiers at the end that appear to be on his side. Perhaps they’re under someone’s control or infected with something? Maybe this is after Snake takes the first major step on his road to being a villain? Hard to tell really)

So those are my thoughts on the E3 2014 trailer for “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”. I’ll be writing pieces on anymore footage of the game that’s released. Suffice it to say this trailer got me very, very excited for what’s to come.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

So then. Nazis. Nazis fascinate me, I must admit. They are a group that will almost inevitably be brought up by anyone discussing the concept of “Evil”- they’re remembered as a mighty yet diabolical, heinous war machine responsible for some of the worst atrocities in humanity’s history. So no matter how interesting I find them, I do so love seeing them get killed. As you can probably imagine, I was really rather looking forward to “Wolfenstein”. I must admit my experience with the previous installments is somewhat lacking. I’ve played “Wolfenstein 3D” a little bit and I played quite a lot of “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” but that’s all. As for “The New Order”, I loved the premise, I really like first person shooters, and I love killing Nazis, so this looked like one to pick up. This review will be focusing on the title as a game rather than as part of the franchise; is it any good? Does it do anything new for shooters? Just how many Nazis did I kill anyway?

Answer: I’ve lost count. The story starts in 1946 with long-time “Wolfenstein” protagonist William “B.J” Blazkowicz (Which other people seem to pronounce “Blaz-KO-Vitch” but he himself pronounces “Blaz-kuh-witz”) leading a small team on a desperate, last-ditch raid against the castle base of General Wilhelm Strasse, otherwise known as “Deathshead”, a monstrous Nazi scientist who is responsible for a whole lot of mechanised dogs, humans and robots that are greatly improving Germany’s chance of winning the war. Long story short B.J and friends are captured, he escapes with a couple of them, takes a big piece of shrapnel to the head and goes into a vegetative state; ending up in an Asylum run by a polish family. Losing his concept of time, he is doted on by the family’s daughter Anya until eventually a Nazi squad arrive to shut the place down with bullets. This spurs B.J back into action as he gets up, kills a whole load of Nazis and joins up with Anya to help out any resistance fighters. However, there’s one major twist to all this: B.J was in a vegetative state for fourteen years- the Nazis won the war and 1960 sees pretty much the entire planet run by Nazis. Also The Moon, but I’ll get to that. This was the premise that got me interested in the game, and it really doesn’t disappoint- not only have the Nazis got vastly improved technology in 1960 but you also see the non-military effects of a world run by the Nazi party. It ranges from big things like a bridge from Europe to Africa (which is apparently “The Front” but I don’t know how much resistance is going on there. Probably not a lot what with all the robot dogs and Supersoldaten) and a Nazi lunar base to smaller things like famous songs from the era recorded in German, like “Get Back” by The Beatles and “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas. The back story is largely found in newspaper clippings that are very interesting if you take the time to read them, and the fact that it isn’t out in the open adds to the idea that everyone’s so beaten down by the Nazis- as far as most people are concerned, they won. Early on B.J is told that the U.S was nuked, which is not even treated as anything shocking by those telling him. At one point Deathshead lambasts B.J for being an agent of chaos out to selfishly ruin the efficient, beautiful society the Nazis have created. They won. The smaller-scale story as told throughout the story missions is also good; B.J and what’s left of the resistance fight back against the Reich in whatever ways they can leading to some decent variety in missions, but the real focus here is on character. B.J himself gets some decent fleshing out through his interactions with his team, mainly Anya, and through his narration. Said narration is always a hushed, intense whisper that’s usually poetic but concise as he reflects on what’s happening to him and what’s happened in the past. It’s a nice contrast to his determined but approachable exterior- inside he’s a cold-hearted killer with a burning hatred for the Nazis that runs deep. Other stand-outs are Anya who fills the role of B.Js girlfriend while also being a key member of the resistance who comes across as an actual human being who’s intelligent, determined and warm despite all that’s happened to her, and B.J’s old friend and comrade Fergus- a battered, lethal Scotsman who provides a good amount of abrasive comic relief, and fills out the British part of the team a bit (The UK didn’t do too well in this timeline). Overall the story is really rather good, and definitely not just throw-away filler in between shooting sections.

Now many would argue that gameplay is most important in an FPS, and fortunately that doesn’t disappoint either. If the story is handling the more serious side of things, its the gameplay that handles the fun, cathartic side. Coming across as a mixture of classic FPS gameplay as seen in the likes of “Doom” and the better type of modern shooter like “Resistance 3″, it’s both smart and over-the-top. Almost every weapon in the game can be dual-wielded, including automatic shotguns and assault rifles. Hell, even knives. Most of the weapons feel satisfying and handle well, and well-implemented lean system makes cover a more intuitive option without going too far like “Killzone” 2 and 3. The game is split between shoot-outs and stealth sections, and both are handled well. The stealth works on line-of-sight and hiding behind physical objects rather than in shadow. Knives can be thrown, takedowns can be performed or if you’re in a rush pistols can be silenced. Commanders can be killed to prevent reinforcements from showing up, and the game feels fair in regards to the time between being seen and an alert being raised- basically it’s FPS stealth done right, feeling similar to “Metro: Last Light”. Health does regenerate, but only by twenty points (that was how high mine went, you might be able to upgrade it)- otherwise you’ve got to pick up health packs, just like old times. Health can continuously be picked up even if you’re at your maximum- causing you to “Overcharge” and have extra health that increasingly drops down to your limit. The game also handles “Perks” well, with unlocks being tied to tasks, mainly involving killing a certain number of Nazis in different ways.

I said it mixes the old with the new, and I feel it does it well- the health system, armour and mowing down hordes of enemies with massive firepower from the old days, tight level design and well-implemented stealth from newer games. In answer to the question I posed earlier in the review, it doesn’t really do much new for the genre, besides the health system, which is a pretty cool idea, all told. However, at no point in the game did I think “Oh they took this from (X)”. It feels like a natural step for shooters and not the sum of several parts from games that came before it.

Overall, “Wolfenstein” is great. The back story and premise are really interesting and well-told, the character drama is solid and its characters likable, and the gameplay mixes modern sensibilities with old school massacring rather well. This is definitely one to check out, particularly if you like first person shooters.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2: A House Divided and Episode 3: In Harm’s Way Reviews

Okay, same deal as the last two episodes of “The Wolf Among Us”- played episode 2 of this when it came out, didn’t review it, decided to wait for episode 3 to come out. Okay, let’s get into it:

Episode 2: A House Divided

This episode focuses on Clem’s new group deciding they need to get the hell away from the cabin they’re currently staying in after the previously mentioned antagonist “Carver” turns up to recon the area while everyone but Clem and Sarah are absent. A key part of the story is the emotional return of a friendly face for Clementine that I won’t spoil in this part of the review at least, and despite having it accidentally revealed to me it really packed a punch as the stand-out part of the episode. The story in this part strikes a balance between warm, safe (as safe as one can be in this situation) moments with character interaction and more harsh sections when the group are in danger, and here said sections seem to directly alternate, though that’s not a bad thing. As well as the aforementioned returning character I feel this episode and the next one (I’ll get to that) really demonstrate how interesting Sarah is, both as a character and as a catalyst for gameplay elements and choices. Basically she’s a fifteen year old girl who is very sheltered and naive, and has to be constantly looked after lest she get herself or anyone else killed. This responsibility is often passed over from her father to Clem, and it leads to some rather interesting situations. She can often be a burden and you have to decided whether you want to be cold and uncaring with her, or be more sympathetic. Gameplay wise it’s still predominantly exploring and dialogue choices, with quick time events being used sparingly for when zombies attack, which isn’t too often. What’s most important here of course, are the choices you have to make. Fortunately this episode has some pretty strong ones. Though I feel the choices are less one-sided for me than the ones in “The Wolf Among Us” (By no means the game’s fault, I’m just following a pretty clear path that I’ve made for myself), I do still find a lot of them quite easy to make, at least some times. Still, they’re well-implemented as always, and the short amount of time you often have to make the choices still really adds to them.

Overall, a good episode.

Episode 3: In Harm’s Way

This episode is pretty intense, at least after a somewhat slow start. [SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 2] After being captured by Michael Madsen (Carver) in the last episode and losing a few members in the process [SPOILERS END] Clem and the gang are hauled over to Carver’s base- a big, D.I.Y/Garden Centre place. Its residents include whatever “400 days” characters you convinced to leave at the end of the DLC, and I must say it is nice to see where they ended up, even if the majority of them are arseholes now. Clem and friends spend the majority of the episode being forced by Carver to earn his trust through copious amounts of manual labour, all while forming a plan to escape. I said at the start of this section that the episode has a slow start, but I wouldn’t call that a bad thing. The episode has a lot of set-up with the group forming their plan, and it’s worth it for the pay-off at the end. The ending of this episode is fantastic both in content and as a clifhanger, and contains one of the most brutal things I’ve seen in games for a while, and certainly in “The Walking Dead” games. It all hinges on what I’d consider to be one of the most important choices in either series, and arguably the most important choice in Season 2 so far- one that will come to define Clem for however long she has left (and please let that be a long time- I already lost Lee, I can’t lose Clem too). Elsewhere the choices are up to their usual standard, with at least two stand-outs. Something I noticed on a more negative side was that there were a few dialogue options where the time limit went down so slowly it didn’t seem to be moving at all, in fact it may not have been. I don’t know whether this was a glitch or intentional, but if the latter is the case then it’s unhelpful. A key part of the choices in this game is that you often have a short amount of time to decide, which ramps up the panic and makes them harder. Granted the dialogue choices aren’t the most important, but it’s still worth noting. The “Action” scenes are again used sparingly in this episode, which makes sense given the setting for a lot of it.

At this point I prefer “The Wolf Among Us” out of Tell Tale’s two on-going projects, but “The Walking Dead” is not to be sniffed at. It’s carrying on the great work that “Season 1″ started, and is really worth looking into, as long as you can take the violence and sheer despair of it all.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18