Resident Evil Revelations 2 Episode 1 review


Hot on the heels of the HD re-release of arguably the best Resident Evil game (or at very least joint with that OTHER Resident Evil game you just thought of) is Capcom’s newest attempt to take the series back in the right direction- an episodic downloadable title that brings back two old Resi favourites who have been left out of recent games (admittedly for the best, in hindsight). Is episodic the way to go? Does the new gameplay dynamic work? Is Wesker in this one? The answer to these questions and more are coming your way…

…right now. First of all: no, Wesker isn’t in it. At least he isn’t in the first episode. Capcom seems to be genuinely trying to move away from the series’ story baggage, which is good to see. Having said that, the story here is pretty threadbare. This first episode is split into two sections: Claire Redfield and her young, sweary friend Moira Burton are kidnapped by a mysterious organisation and wake up in a run-down penal colony, while (MINOR SPOILER) months later (SPOILERS END) the greatest, most criminally underused character in Resi (and Moira’s father) Barry Burton arrives on the island to find them both, with the help of a little girl called Natalia. The game doesn’t give much in the way of set-up. Moira mentions some previous incident that has resulted in a reluctance to use firearms, Claire and Barry are now apparently friends and there’s a decent cliffhanger, but apart from that nothing is explained. There’s an unseen woman who sounds a bit like Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and torments you over bracelets that change colour in response to fear and anxiety, and that’s it. The episode is rather short and doesn’t really do much with its time, but to be fair I do want to see more from it, as long as it has a decent payoff. It’s great to see Claire and Barry back, who both fit their established characters of quietly competent and in control and a goofy, fatherly exterior covering up a more worried interior respectively. Their support characters don’t fare so well; Moira is an annoying attempt at writing a brash teenagers, whose sweary lines often sound awkward and forced. Her role in the game is also to just shine a torch at items so Claire can pick them up. She has a crowbar for self-defence, but her job is, in her own words, “Flashlight duty”. On the other hand, Natalia and Barry have a decent chemistry, she’s a lot less annoying than most child characters, and the game knows how to use her sparingly.

On the gameplay side, its split right down the middle. Overall it plays like REvelations 1- over the shoulder aiming, dedicated dodge button, moving while aiming; basic horror-action with all the action movie shenanigans from RE6. Claire and Moira fight fast, mutant humanoids in the current Resi standard, while Barry’s section actually manages to get some decent tension going as he’s more heavily armed, but neogitates a dark forest while fighting tall, grotesque mutant things that keep adjust their bodies to keep going despite the damage you cause them. This part worked really well, with the creepy atmosphere and Barry and Natalia playing off each other creating a good balance between horror and action. The split I mentioned is thus: Claire’s section is very bland and doesn’t offer anything of real substance. Barry’s section gives me hope that things are starting to improve for the series- it’s nothing spectacular, but its still progress.

Also included with episode 1 is “Raid Mode”- basically “The Mercenaries” mode from previous games but mostly without the time limit. You pick a character from the main game (as well as DLC characters like Hunk and Wesker), a weapon and skill loadout then go through short levels killing all the enemies, defending a point, or just getting to the end within a time limit. You pick up new weapons, skills and weapon mods, the levels get increasingly more difficult and overall it’s a pretty decent arcade mode. It certainly gives the game more of a life after you’ve beaten the short main episode. The weird thing is that most of the levels I’ve seen at the time of writing have been from Resident Evil 6. If you’re going to go to the trouble of bringing back Barry, Claire, Jill, Hunk and Wesker, how’s about basing them on the good Resi games? Food for thought.

Overall, REvelations 2 is a mixed bag. Claire’s section is bland but does have some story promise, Barry’s section manages some decent tension and good chemistry between him and his support character, and I am genuinely interested to see what happens next episode. If this is indicative of how the whole season will play out, I can tentatively say that episodic seems to have been a smart move.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

The “I was almost a Claire sandwich” joke was pretty good, but it wasn’t as good as “WHO’S THE MASTER OF UNLOCKING NOW, HUH?!”. I love Barry.

Thoughts on- Dead Rising 3

NOTE THAT THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS

We have a history, Dead Rising and I. The first one was one of the two main reasons I wanted an Xbox 360 (the other being the original Bioshock)- a sandbox game of sorts set in a mall overrun with zombies to be killed by the hundred with all manner of weapons both legitimate and improvised. It blew my mind, basically, despite its steep difficulty enforced by a single save slot, awkward movements and time-specific story events on top of the game just being generally hard. The second game improved and tweaked the formula to make things fairer and the new combo weapon system added a new layer to combat, but somehow the spark was gone for me, not that it was a bad game. So when the third game was announced as an Xbone launch title with a new darker, more serious tone and grey/brown colour palette, it wasn’t on the top of my list. However, since then I’ve acquired an Xbone and a copy of Dead Rising 3, and frankly had to write something about it, even if it wasn’t a review. So these are my thoughts on Dead Rising 3, because the spark is back, and it just stuck a knife between its teeth and dove into a group of zombies with a sledgehammer in each hand and a lit stick of dynamite tucked into its belt.

First of all, the more muted, “Realistic” colour palette and environment is fine. Nothing special, but it does the job. The game is set in an analogue of Los Angeles called “Los Perdidos”, and is split into four ares; a rough “Americana” neighbourhood, a rich Beverly Hills-type area, a downtown business district and an industrial section. It lacks the bright colours of the first two games, but it’s nice to not be cooped up in a mall or resort anymore, and there are no longer any load times apart from when you die or reload a checkpoint, so that’s a plus. The story is a mess but undoubtedly entertaining. You are Nick, a mechanic trapped in Los Perdidos after a zombie outbreak (now an accepted occurrence that’s more of a nuisance than a crisis) trying to escape with his friends tough greaser mechanic lady, young goth woman, chubby soldier and Terry Bogard from Final Fight, but along the way becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving a wrestler-turned criminal with a Hawaiian shirt and Vincent Vega hair, a highly-sexualised female Sergeant who uses wrestling moves and explosives, an evil version of Caroline from “Wolfenstein The New Order” and an evil U.S Army General whose final boss fight is very similar to the fight with Armstrong at the end of “Metal Gear Rising”. It turns out that Nick is the cure for the zombie virus, Chuck Greene turns up literally out of nowhere near the end of the game (and looks like the concepts of ageing and living rough cornered him in a car park and beat him over the head with a lead pipe), and throughout the story everyone seems to react to events in a weirdly off-kilter way that doesn’t make sense. The aforementioned mechanic lady is tortured and has her arm removed off-screen, but before this has time to sink in her and Nick brush it off and build her a mechanical flamethrower arm instead. Don’t get me wrong, the first two games were silly, but they played a lot of things straight. Dead Rising 3 seems to know how utterly mental it is and just rolls with it, but what saves it is that it never felt like the developers were really trying to make it whacky or crazy. For all the really dumb, goofy things that happen in it, it genuinely feels natural, which is what elevates it high above, say, “Sunset Overdrive”, in which the comedy just feels forced. It also has a pretty good grasp of black comedy, which again feels natural.

Gameplay wise, things have changed quite dramatically. The biggest overall difference is how much easier it is than the previous games. There are multiple safehouses around the map that include lockers that can spawn any weapon you’ve picked up almost infinitely, including combo weapons. The time limit in the game is so lenient it may as well just not be present, and the game is just generally easier- bosses die faster and Nick is harder to kill than Frank and Chuck. You can also save anywhere and restart from a checkpoint if you die. Beating DR1 with its best ending took careful planning, frugal resource management and pinpoint accurate timing. I got DR3s best ending on my first go without really trying all that hard. Having said all that I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make the game more fair and accessible, but it may well rub purists up the wrong way. The gameplay itself has also become more over the top in proportion to the story and tone- the combo weapons in particular are completely bananas. The theme seems to be “Let’s duct tape these sharp/explosive/blunt/otherwise dangerous objects together and just hope for the best”. Seemingly in an effort to top the “Two fire axes duct taped to a sledgehammer” weapon from DR2, DR3 has- among other things- three grenades taped to a sledgehammer that go off with every hit, a sword taped to a knife, an assault rifle taped to a shotgun and a katana taped to a machete that somehow also includes a saw blade. It’s ridiculous and I love it.

I imagine if you’re going to buy Dead Rising 3 you already have, but if not then definitely give it a look. This article was more just me talking about the game as a whole, and to conclude; it’s refreshing to see a game that’s so committed to being a completely mental, over the top rampage while also feeling natural and organic in both its writing and gameplay, no matter how dumb it gets. It’s the best game in the Dead Rising series, and above all it’s good fun.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Game of Thrones Episode 2 – “The Lost Lords” Review

Episode 1 of “Game of Thrones” left me reeling- it was as bleak and brutal as the series but made even worse by the fact that you had to take an active part in making decision making. Decisions that often ended with awful results, as is Telltale’s style. Now episode 2 is upon us, and it’s only going to get worse from here.

After [SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1] young new lord Ethan got stabbed in the neck by Ramsay Snow [SPOILERS END] house Forrester is in turmoil. Despite the unexpected reprieve of eldest son Rodrick surviving the Red Wedding (albeit in bad shape) they urgently need help, and so this episode is spent attempting to find solutions to their House Whitehill problem. We get to see exiled brother Asher in action in a brutal opening tavern fight, Rodrick attempts to form an alliance with another house and over in King’s landing Mira can underhandedly drag Margery Tyrell into this mess. Story wise this episode has a lot of set-up in it, especially given that it has two new main characters to develop on top of everyone established in episode 1, and I presume this is why this series has six episodes as opposed to five. It’s not a problem- it’s a very story based game so character development is key- but anyone looking for an explosive follow-up to the first episode will be disappointed. It does, however, still feel very authentic and continues to nail the tone of Game of Thrones. Whereas the choices in The Walking Dead and especially The Wolf Among Us were hard but most likely survivable, here you’re often on the back foot. Playing as Asher was the only time in either episode I felt like I had any real power or agency- for everyone else it’s like you’re climbing a steep staircase and every time you make some real progress an angry, bitter old man with a Northern English accent trips you up with a cane and you tumble back down in a heap. As always with Telltale the choices are the stand-out part of the game and they’re just as difficult here. Having said that the game blatantly ignored one choice I made in the previous episode for no apparent reason. I think I managed to turn it out to an extent, but it was still annoying to have Tyrion complain about me not making a secret deal with him that’d annoy Cersei when in the last episode I explicitly stated that I would be willing to make such a deal. I’m slightly worried that this will become a regular thing now- if a Telltale game starts ignoring your previous choices the whole thing will fall apart.

The other main problems are technical, as is unfortunately common with Telltale. Both episodes have had a strange screen effect that makes the backgrounds look like heavily frosted glass and audio skipped and repeated a few times. These were annoying but not as worrying as the issue with the choices, which I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Overall “The Lost Lords” carries on from episode 1 while setting up and establishing new characters when necessary. Given the cast, their situations and current predicaments it makes sense to do it in this way, and episode 3 should be a good one. This episode ignoring one of my choices is worrying, but hopefully it should be fixed next time. I’ll be keeping an eye on it anyway.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, Jon Snow turned up in this episode. He didn’t do much.

Resident Evil Remastered Review

All together now: RESIDENT. EVILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL. Yes, it’s Resident Evil- classic survival horror series that spectacularly fell off the deep end recently (by “deep end” I mean it fell into an empty swimming pool and cracked its head open) but is taking steps to reclaim its former glory with this- arguably the best Resident Evil game, and one of the best survival horror games ever made. Strangely I actually hoped this would come out but thought it naive- an Xbox/PS HD re-release of the 2002 Gamecube remake of the original game, and I do really think it’ll help the series out. This will be a look at both how the game holds up now and a look at the game itself. For the record I beat the game twice (once with each character) on the Wii (it was just the Gamecube version ported over) and have now beaten the HD version twice.

The two big new features (besides the HD graphics) for REmastered are a new 16:9 widescreen mode and a new control scheme, both of which are standard. The 16:9 is a no-brainer really, but still worth mentioning: REmake (the fan name for it) is a game designed around beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds and widescreen helps give them a better sense of space, especially the foreboding main hall seen above. For some reason the game’s inventory screen is in 4:3 but it’s not a big issue. More problematic are the new controls- replacing the original “Tank” controls (more on those in a second) with a more updated system in which characters auto-run in whatever direction you push the left stick. I find the Tank controls better for two reasons: 1) The game was built around them, and the fixed camera angles mean that you’ll often end up running the wrong way accidentally when the camera suddenly changes. 2) On a more personal note I just really like Tank controls when they’re done well. I completely understand why some people find them irritating and unwieldy and I don’t necessarily buy that whole “They make the game more tense” idea but I feel comfortable with them, particularly in this game. Fortunately the controls can be switched back, but I do think they were a nice inclusion for newcomers all the same. The aspect ratio I suppose was put in for purists, but widescreen makes much more sense. The game also includes two new costumes based on Chris and Jill’s appearances in the RE5 “Lost in Nightmares” DLC, and of course there are the all-new HD graphics. The in-game characters, enemies, items and weapons are all in HD and look wonderful- crisp and detailed in way REmake’s graphics deserve. The pre-rendered backgrounds have also been given a boost and as a result look less murky and again, more crisp and detailed; the whole thing looks gorgeous. Having said that purists may be put off by the slightly cleaner look to everything, but it is a noticeable change at least. However, certain cutscenes (for example, the hunter introduction) remain unchanged, and when they pop up it’s pretty jarring. Overall the changes aren’t anything major besides the graphics, but as I will explain momentarily you’re paying for the game itself and the experience, rather than what the remastered version offers.

As for the game itself, it’s a true survival horror classic. It almost feels like this was released to show “The Evil Within” how it’s done. If you’re entirely unfamiliar with Resident Evil as a series, it involves a comically evil pharmaceutical company called Umbrella who manufactures viruses that turn humans into zombies and animals into virus Bio-Organic Weapons. They’re really bad at preventing catastrophic outbreaks of their viruses, and members of Raccoon City P.Ds elite “S.T.A.R.S” unit are usually on hand to stop them (and, for those who are only familiar with RE4: Leon. He’s good too). This is a remake of the very first game with a whole host of new content- the mansion the game takes place in has been re-designed, enemy encounters have been made harder and more tense, and the game has a truly fantastic atmosphere that provides genuine scares. Whenever people say that jump-scares are cheap or ineffective, this is the best argument to counter them; yes it has plenty of jump-scares, but they only work because of its atmosphere. You play either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield (both with different strengths and weaknesses and support characters, making them both worth playing), trapped in a lavish mansion full of eccentric traps and puzzles and overrun by all manner of horrible creatures. You navigate the mansion solving puzzles and fighting the odd boss to move on to the next area, and as a self-contained location the mansion and its nearby residence are fantastic examples of level design. The game spreads its content around a relatively small area with no expense of pacing and the whole thing is crafted expertly with no wasted areas or time. Enemies are a real threat and navigating them can be tricky, and unique to REmake is the need to decapitate or burn zombies, less they come back as “Crimson Heads”- faster, stronger and more aggressive versions of themselves. Elsewhere there’s an indestructible monstrosity with a tragic back story, giant spiders (classic) and Neptune- turning what was a trivial encounter in the original game into an experience that makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it now- it’s that intense.

Overall, REmastered is definitely worth buying- the HD graphics are beautiful, the widescreen makes a big difference and best of all it’s REmake for £16 on the new generation of consoles. It’s a true survival horror classic with amazing atmosphere, level design and monsters- if you’re at all interested in the genre then check this out. If you’ve already played and beat it before this is still worth a look. It holds up remarkably well, and I do really hope the positive response to this release informs where Capcom takes the series. Also, maybe now they’ll remake Resident Evil 2.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

DLC Review- Assassin’s Creed Unity: Dead Kings

So this is something of a surprise for triple A- free DLC. Free DLC isn’t entirely unheard of you understand, but this is the kind of thing that is usually overpriced and part of a season pass- new map, new weapon, new missions; the whole shebang. Now I do put the reason for the content being free firmly on the base game being released as a buggy, broken mess but it is still a positive gesture, and I was going to get it anyway so it all turned out fine. Assassin’s Creed DLC has a mixed history- AC II cut two chapters out of the game and then sold them back to you with reasonable quality, AC III had an alternate-history story in which protagonist Connor has magic powers and George Washington is King of America (I didn’t finish it but what I played was underwhelming) and ACIV had a neat little stand-alone story in which Adewale murdered slavers and freed captured slaves. I liked that one a whole bunch. So how does this one stack up? Can I even criticise it considering it’s free? I’ll answer that last one now- of course I can.

Set after the half underwhelming, half infuriating ending of AC Unity, “Dead Kings” finds Arno is the town of Franciade doing… something or other for the Marquis De Sade (mercifully a fetch-quest and not De Sade’s usual interests), and then he rescues a child and helps him find some sort of magic trinkets or something that eventually lead him to a piece of Eden. Whereas AC Unity’s story had some genuine potential and interesting themes that it diligently squandered Dead Kings has nothing of interest going on and maintains the same flat tone throughout. Why is Arno in Franciade? When did De Sade move there? Who the hell built a portable grenade launcher with an axe blade attached to it and why is there seemingly only one of them? None of these questions are answered- Arno just shows up, helps out an annoying, unlikable (there’s a surprise) child and that’s it- no real conflict, no development, just blandness and pottering about. The game also tries to make a big, dramatic reveal out of Arno declaring “I am an Assassin!” to the little boy despite the fact that (SPOILERS FOR THE MAIN GAME) Arno was decisively kicked out of the Assassin brotherhood for being a complete arsehole and murdering people without his superiors’ say-so (SPOILERS END), and Arno himself hasn’t become any less of a cocky, annoying twat since the main story.

Gameplay wise it has all the same issues as the main game only it has barely any assassinations in it (to its eternal credit) and contains a few new things (I hesitate to use the word “features” here. As generic as “things” is I can’t deny it fits the subject matter). Chief among them being the new “Guillotine gun” weapon- the aforementioned portable grenade launcher with affixed axe blade which, in practice, makes no real difference. The explosives are both inconsistent and generally underwhelming and the axe blade is fine but not as swift or as powerful as the sword you get for beating the game. A new enemy type has been included in the form of treasure hunter types who are piss-weak on their own but in groups become as difficult as regular enemies, and are all tied to a boss man who, if killed, causes every enemy linked to him to flee. It makes the combat quicker and easier so no complaints from me. The map itself is rather small but features a more extensive underground layer which is a nice touch, and a new lantern is required to clear dark areas and scatter cockroaches. Finally the DLC throws in some abysmal attempts at puzzles that are no more mentally taxing than “Here are some braziers. Light a certain four of them in a row based on a vague clue” that took me way longer than they should purely by being incredibly annoying and needless.

Overall “Dead Kings” is a mixed bag. If you’re desperate for more AC Unity or just want to unlock all of those enticing, locked weapon and clothing items included in the main game (some were included in the main game but informed you that Dead Kings was required to buy them) then by all means go for it- it is free after all. For everyone else this is a waste of time- the story sucks, the new inclusions don’t amount to much, and it just doesn’t bring anything interesting to the table.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Neverending Nightmares Review


Starting 2015 with a horrifying stare into the dark core of the human psyche is a look at “Neverending Nightmares”, a game developed by Matt Gilgenbach and born out of his struggles with OCD and depression. This is a new one for me- I can’t think of a game I’ve played that so openly deals with its creator’s issues, and if nothing else it’s to be commended for the undeniably brave piece it is, and I feel compelled to thank Mr Gilgenbach for releasing it. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s also a damn good experience.

You are Thomas- a man who, as the title suggests, spends the game in a series of increasingly dire nightmares that he cannot escape from; waking into said nightmares repeatedly regardless of how many times he is killed or attempts to wake up. The other key recurring character is his sister Gabby, whose affect on the plot changes depending on the path you take through the story. The plot is quite simple and is told predominantly through imagery and context, and deals with issues that many people may find disturbingly familar; gruesome self-harm, anxiety based around children, the thought of being locked in an asylum, and the idea of having to protect (and spectacularly failing to protect) someone you love. Different people will get different results from the game, but I’m willing to admit that a lot of it rang true for me, and in one case actually alerted me to an issue I hadn’t ever really acknowledged until that point. The point is it’s imagery and concepts that will make most people feel uneasy in a “Silent Hill” sort of way, and as a horror game it’s very effective in that regard. The three different endings work well, but achieving them is down to being in a certain direction rather than criteria or skill- one of them I achieved by accident, while one was actually linked to a nicely symbolic choice. As seen in the image above the graphics are done in the style of black and white, 2-D line drawings which works beautifully, and the environment is utilised to great effect- exploring Thomas’ house, for example, sees the hallways and rooms become increasingly shabby and dilapidated, and one section involving running away from a swift enemy through similar-looking corridors and attempting to find holes leading down to the next area was genuinely tense.

Gameplay is rather simple- you move on a 2-D, sometimes 3-D plane avoiding monsters and occasionally interacting with plot items. There aren’t any puzzles except finding where to go next, but the simplicity of the game’s design works in its favour. Thomas suffers from asthma and as a result can only run for a few seconds at a time before he stops and breaks out into laboured pants like a chain-smoker attempting to chase Barry Allen, which means the majority of the time you’ll be taking things slow and as a result are entirely at the mercy of whatever the game throws at you. The atmosphere is heavy from the very start- the sense that something is very wrong but you can’t figure out what, and by the time you do it’s too late and no one is going to pull you out of this horrible situation because it’s a creation of your own tortured mind. But you push on, and are repeatedly rewarded with horrifying sights that are not for the squeamish. The only real problem is that the game is rather short, but it’s a very intense experience in a way similar to “Lone Survivor” (which I am planning to review soon) and doesn’t feel rushed.

The biggest problems I had were technical- I played the GOG version which had frequent sound-skipping, absent music and the screen cutting to black temporarily, but none of it interfered with the game too much.

Overall, “Neverending Nightmares” is a great example of a bleak, dark horror story very personal to its creator while being relate-able to other people. It’s graphically beautiful, its imagery is horrifying and its tone is spot-on: it’s not for the squeamish, and will have some disturbing sights for those with psychological issues of their own, but if you can handle all that it’s definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

It’s been a patchy year for Ubisoft, all told. Their supposed generation-defining uber-hit “Watch Dogs” turned out to be a mediocre sandbox game with utterly abysmal forced stealth sections, and this game- supposedly the next evolution for the “Assassin’s Creed” series in line with AC2 and AC4: Black Flag was, upon release, a bug-ridden mess of catastrophic proportions. But on the other hand, its titles “Far Cry 4″ and “Assassin’s Creed Rogue” (unfairly brushed aside as “the other one” due to being released on the same day as Unity and using the same assets from previous games) are two of the best games I’ve played this year. Fortunately for me I didn’t play AC Unity upon release and instead waited like a bearded spider until recently, installing the most recent patch (6GB instead of its original 40GB, another blunder on Ubisoft’s part) and so having called attention to its buggy, broken state can review the game in its current state, as I experienced it. For those who aren’t familiar with my feelings on the series as a whole I love Assassin’s Creed and am the kind of person who can easily notice changes to the formula both positive and negative. I was reticent going into this game as “Rogue” made me firmly supportive of the Templar order and therefore not particularly interested in being an Assassin again, but apart from that I was looking forward to it, as I always do. Right, on with the review.

Set during the French Revolution you are Arno Victor Dorian, raised by Templar grand master Francois De La Serre after the death of Arno’s father at the hands of (SPOILERS) Shay from Assassin’s Creed Rogue, though this game never mentions that fact (SPOILERS END) but ends up joining the local Assassin brotherhood due to the indirect part he played in De La Serre’s murder. Now, the first thing that’s apparent in the story is that it really wants to be “Assassin’s Creed 2″- similar protagonists, similar thirst for vengeance, similar involvement with the Assassins in an attempt at redemption. There are, however, two big problems with the story. The first is that it isn’t AC2 and Arno is certainly no Ezio- his attempts at being a charming rogue just make him sound like a pompous arsehole, and his apparent bond with De La Serre is never explored. The other problem is that it’s told from entirely the wrong perspective, at least in my opinion. See, De La Serre has a daughter named Elise, whom he raised to be a Templar. The story involves a coup in the Templar order with one faction being lead by Elise, but she’s pushed to the side so that Arno can steal the spotlight and solve everything himself. It would be so much more interesting to play as Elise- a Templar dealing with a catastrophic split in the order at such an important time for them (the revolution was started by the Templars, implied in AC Rogue to be in response to Connor’s work in ACIII), forced to kill her own partly out of revenge for her father and partly to set things straight- possibly ending as the ruthless new Grand Master. Instead she’s the firey love interest/sidekick- (SPOILERS) who dies at the end so Arno can have a bit of a moment) (SPOILERS END) -underdeveloped and criminally underused to her full potential- it’s a shame. Part of me thinks she was crammed into the game in response to the controversy surrounding Ubisoft not having female characters in the co-op missions, as her inclusion in the story just does not make sense. She should be taking on the lion’s share of the work but she isn’t. Arno’s part of the story does have some interesting ideas involving potential peace between the two groups and the consequences of him picking his own targets and acting without authority, but the aforementioned wasted potential just brings the rest of it down. The required future segments of the plot are now brief cutscenes with two annoying people I had no stake in, but they’re over very quickly. Oh, also, Arno can now see his targets’ memories when he Assassinates them, which replaces the traditional dialogue between protagonist and dying target of the previous games, and is brought up by Arno as a real-life thing he can do, despite the fact it’s never explained. It’s odd and out of place, considering the supernatural elements of the previous games are downplayed here (they’re still present, but not as much).

Gameplay is where things have changed quite a bit, for better and for worse. First up is the new free-running engine, with new animations, better climbing, insanely long-distance jumps and most importantly the ability to hold down a button to make Arno swiftly and safely descend a structure via whatever hand-holds happen to be present. It’s fast, effective and greatly appreciated, and although Arno can often annoyingly either stick to scenery or do everything he can to avoid touching the ground because the right trigger handles both spriting and climbing, it works well for the most part. Combat too has be redefined; the counter-kill system of “parry, then instant-kill move” has been replaced with a parry that, if done spot-on, leaves your opponent open to be wailed on like your sword is actually a wooden pole and then killed with a finishing move (which you can sometimes do straight away under conditions I haven’t figured out yet). This one baffled me a little- it does mean you can’t simply fight your way out of every situation which is nice, but at the same time it means that fights with three or four people can turn into an absolute slog as you wail on whoever looks open while rolling around to avoid gunfire. The most surprising and arguably most positive change to gameplay is the stealth system- which now features a cover system, crouched movement, and guards that get alerted individually as opposed to alerting everyone on the map. Hell must have frozen over because THE STEALTH DOESN’T SUCK IN THIS ASSASSIN’S CREED GAME. DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG I’VE WAITED FOR THIS? Ahem. It really makes a difference, and if this becomes the new standard for stealth in the AC series they’re on to a winner, particularly with some tweaking. A change that really doesn’t work though, is what they’ve done to the hidden blade: you can’t equip it anymore, and instead can only use it contextually, but it’s the ONLY thing you can assassinate targets with. So if you somehow alert your target during your approach you have to beat them to the ground (or do a finishing move. I slit someone’s throat and it only knocked them down for a while) then hope that the game will lock onto them so you can finish them. It’s a ridiculous, backwards notion that makes the assassinations very tense for all the wrong reasons- it desperately needs to be changed. The assassination missions are also made worse by the lack of checkpoints- got into the building, killed your target but got halberd-ed to death during that arbitrary slow-motion bit that follows every assassination cutscene? Well back to the start you go. It’s a shame these two big problems are there because assassination missions are set-up in a “Hitman” style, with multiple routes and methods of entry and murder, though I often just climbed in through a window and stabbed my way to victory.

Elsewhere there’s customisable clothing that offers new effects like reduced falling damage and increases the time it takes to be detected, microtransactions making said clothing harder to get because it’s so bloody expensive (dick move there, Ubisoft) and co-op missions, which I haven’t got around to playing yet.

“Assassin’s Creed Unity” is hit and miss, but with real potential. The story criminally under-uses who should be its strongest character and instead focuses on trying to re-do ACII with an inferior protagonist, the combat is more challenging but often unfair and the new hidden blade mechanics are awful, but the stealth is better than its ever been and the freeruning changes are excellent. There’s definitely fun to be had here, particularly for fans of the series, but it has real problems holding it back from being put on the same level as AC2, 4 and Rogue. Consider it carefully before buying.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Evil Within Review

I’ve had a pretty rough history with “The Evil Within”. It was first announced as a “Return to Survival Horror”, a boast that everyone seemed to take seriously rather than scoff at, ignoring that horror games and indeed survival horror haven’t gone anywhere. I’ve been pissing and moaning about that since it was first announced until about a week before the game’s release when I started to look forward to the game as an action-horror in the “Resident Evil 4″ mold. It’s made by Shinji Mikami, you see, and with that pedigree come real expectations. Are those expectations met? Is it actual survival horror, or is it a solid action-horror? Is it even any good?

The story is a mess. You are Sebastian Castellanos, a crap detective in a waistcoat who looks like Jaime Lannister investigating a violent situation at Beacon Mental Hospital with his partner, a man in glasses and stylin’ leather gloves and a woman who responds to violent situations in high heels because I can only assume she never has to run around when she’s on a case. Upon reaching the asylum Sebastian is captured, escapes from a man with a chainsaw because there’s always one in these situations, then there’s a scene where an ambulance does its best “Alone in the Dark” impression and Seb finds himself stranded in some spooky woods. The plot revolves around a man named Ruvik, whose assorted memories make up the levels as you trawl through his mind and encounter his past in the form of flashbacks and enemies that reflect his psyche like a crap version of “Silent Hill”. The biggest problem this raises is that all the locations in the game are jumbled up and crammed together with little to no continuity- it just feels like a load of set-pieces crammed together. “You’re in the village from RE4. Now you’re in a hospital, ooh, now you’re in the MINE from RE4, oh hey, the mansion from RE1! NO TIME, NOW YOU’RE IN A FLOODED CITY WATCH OUT FOR THAT FISH MAN THING!” the game takes no time to establish its locations, nor does it offer any juxtaposition in its scenes- you’re just thrown into areas full of enemies that you’ve seen in another, better game. Certain locations are well designed, particularly the mental ward you return to periodically to save the game and level up, but most of them are either generic or ripped from Resident Evil 4. The characters are all bland and undeveloped apart from Ruvik, who’s just dull, plot points are introduced and never touched upon again, and the whole thing ends on a vague conclusion that doesn’t explain the events leading up to it or put it into any greater context. The ideas of being trapped inside the mind of a scarred individual and negotiating a landscape that’s prone to changing on a whim are interesting, but they’re poorly done here, and end up being annoying.

Gameplay is a mixed bag. On the one hand there is fun to be had- it controls like a mix of RE4 and “The Last of Us”, and when the game isn’t being incredibly unfair and borderline broken it can be quite intense. Those moments are in the minority though. Before going any further I have to say- this is not a survival horror game. It’s an action-horror- over the shoulder aiming, locational damage, a big, dumb melee attack, sections in which you have to hold of hordes of enemies or kill a certain number to advance, quick time events and huge action set-pieces. Which leads me to inquire: if this is “Bringing back Survival Horror” then what exactly is it bringing back? If this is survival horror than so are all three Dead Space games, RE 4, 5 and 6 and indeed The Last of Us. I genuinely don’t understand why people think this is A) Survival Horror and B) Some real return to the genre. I’ve come to the conclusion that “Survival Horror” refers to the old-school Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, and things like “Dino Crisis”, but not games like this. But I digress- the combat here is often infuriating. Bullets are scarce- enemies can drop whole boxes of ammo with four loose bullets next to them and yet the pick-up gives you two rounds. You can often get into an unavoidable fight and the game simply doesn’t provide enough ammo for you to beat it. Now you may be thinking “But James, you scrub, surely you should conserve your ammo more and rise to the challenge?” and to you I say: conserving supplies is utterly negated when bullets simply don’t work, and your melee attack couldn’t knock over a baby with an inner-ear infection. The former is split into two camps: enemies absorbing ridiculous amounts of damage for no reason- whole clips, explosives, the lot- or the game simply refusing to acknowledge you’ve hit an enemy, even if your cursor is right over their body or head. So no, it isn’t about conserving ammo, it’s about hoping that the game will hold itself together, which is made trickier by its refusal to adhere to any kind of consistent internal logic. Sometimes enemies are made to be far too powerful- enemies may grab you or hit you despite the fact you were well out of their range, and sometimes instead of giving you the chance to escape with a QTE the game instead makes you tank the damage and tells you to deal with it. There’s an enemy late in the game with a one-hit kill attack that tracks you, is very quick and doesn’t slow down or stop for several seconds. The artificial difficulty is compounded by inconsistent, often poor checkpoints- a lot of situations will involve a simple but time-consuming part followed by a section that kills you quickly after giving you a very short amount of time to escape, then sends you right back to the beginning of that first part. Also Sebastian’s melee attack looks ridiculous- he does this huge lunging punch like he’s a drunk anime character trying to start a fight in a pub. Most enemies either completely ignore it, or take minimal damage.

Are there actually any good things about the game? Well as I said when it’s not being unfair or annoying the gameplay is solid and enjoyable enough. A genuine stand-out is the first fight with “The Keeper”- the safe-headed monster featured heavily in the marketing material for the game- a tense fight in which he continues to regenerate as you attempt to escape from an area filling with posion gas. Unfortunately the game keeps bringing him back to the extent that his effect is greatly diminished, but he’s cool for that first big fight. The enemy design is interesting, particularly the horde enemies filled with spikes or wrapped in barb wire, and some of the bosses. Unfortunately every time your head breaks the surface you realise that the gameplay was done better in RE4 and TLOU, and this is nothing special.

So then, “The Evil Within” has a whole lot of problems. The story is a jumbled mess of locations with little continuity, the characters are uniformly uninteresting, and when the gameplay isn’t being unfairly difficult and borderline broken it’s been done better elsewhere. If you absolutely must have a new action-horror game in the vein of “Dead Space 2″ and “Resident Evil 4″ then there is fun to be had here and it does have some cool ideas, but everyone else is better off leaving this one be.

Oh, and if you’re playing it on a console you’re stuck with thick black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, causing the entire game to be viewed in letterbox. Make of that what you will; sometimes I thought it was alright, most of the time I thought it was a crap idea that was just pointless.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Far Cry 4 Review

“Far Cry” is a series I’ve had inconsistent results with at best. I had “Instincts” back in the day and had some fun with it, I thought Far Cry 2 was complete shite (much like most people) and opinions on Far Cry 3 seem to be split into two camps: Me and everyone else. Before release I was drawn into buying it by talk of a gripping story in which vacuous dickhead Jason Brody starts off as a panicky tourist but gradually turns into a confident, bloodthirsty killer in a dark, harrowing character arc. What I got was vacuous dickhead Jason Brody being a panicky tourist for all of one mission before he instantly gains the ability to clear out a whole camp of pirates armed only with a colt .45, moving on to expertly take down pirates with a bolt-action sniper rifle and from there generally showing no remorse for his actions and rolling with everything that happens. I liked main villain “Vaas” for the seventeen minutes he was in the game and I liked the gameplay but overall I found it disappointing. So when Far Cry 4 rolled around and once again showed off a charismatic villain tormenting a foreigner inexperienced in the field of murder I was skeptical, but intrigued by what I’d heard. Does it make the series finally something worth playing? Or does it continue the trend?

This time around you’re Ajay Ghale- born in the Himalayan country of Kyrat but raised in America from age three who returns to his homeland to scatter his mother’s ashes, the only instruction being “Take me back to Lakshmana”. As soon as he makes it over the border he’s stopped and kidnapped by Kyrat’s flamboyant and explosively violent King Pagan Min, who appears to know Ajay and his mother, but doesn’t explain how. Ajay then escapes with the help of revolutionary group “The Golden Path”, started by Ajay’s father Mohan and currently attempting to stop Pagan. The story’s biggest problem is the way it’s told- it ebbs and flows with certain parts coming across as strong set-pieces and others slipping by underwhelmingly. Pagan’s three lieutenants get barely any screen time and are dispatched quickly and without much in the way of fanfare (apart from one rather brutal stand-out moment) but the main conflict between the two leaders of The Golden Path stays gripping throughout. Two would-be leaders are fighting for control- Amita, a woman determined to tear down the out-dated traditions stifling Kyrat and willing to use vast quantities of drug money to fund their rebellion and Sabal, a traditionalist who believes returning to Kyrat’s religious roots is the way to go. Often during missions you’ll have to pick between their two plans to determine the direction the story will take, and it’s handled well. Unfortunately like Vaas in the last game Pagan Min is barely in the game, making only four on-screen appearances (technically five but one of them involves his body double) and mostly interacting with Ajay over the radio. It’s a shame because he’s a really interesting character- his rise through the ranks of the Triads (he’s a half-English Colonial Hong Kong national), his participation in the Kyrati civil war and his brutal power-grab are only touched upon briefly, as is his relation to Ajay besides one big plot revelation at the end of the game. This does make sense though- if Vaas was Darth Vader (high-ranking but still heavily involved in skirmishes and empire activity) Pagan Min is the Emperor- overseeing events from afar while running his Kingdom, and trying to convert Ajay to his side. It makes sense plot-wise why he doesn’t turn up much, but his absence is felt every time he does pop up in all his pink-suited glory. Ajay himself is pretty bland as a character, but given the plot points I can’t explain for spoiler reasons, it’s not really his story- he’s there to give the player a way in, and to be a lynch pin in the plans of the real key characters- Amita, Sabal and Pagan Min. There’s also a side-story involving an ancient Kyrati warrior seeking Shangri-La that is good while it lasts but doesn’t really add anything to the main plot.

The gameplay side of things is largely the same as Far Cry 3, but with some great new additions I’ll elaborate on shortly. Firstly for those who didn’t play FC3, this is a first person open-world shooter in the now standard Ubisoft mold of a big map with towers that you have to climb to clear parts of the map and show off points of interest in the area. There are cars to drive as well as hang gliders and the newly added elephants and gyro copters, side-quests involving a lot of murder and the story missions all involve a lot of shooting. As for the new additions, there are the aforementioned gyro-copters and elephants, the latter of which are great for clearing out obstacles or groups of goons and the former is infinitely useful for pretty much every situation, particularly if you have the one-handed grenade launcher. You can now fire any sidearm (including the aforementioned grenade launcher) while driving any vehicle which is supplemented by more streamlined driving controls and a new “Auto drive” feature and there’s now a vehicle takedown in which Ajay leaps into the enemy’s vehicle, stabs them in the neck and commandeers said vehicle. Speaking of which certain skills are locked until you complete an action related to said skill, which helps explains Ajay’s natural killing talent (according to the wiki he was in the military, and personally I believe his skills are partly tied into who his parents were. It sounds dumb but it worked for me). Elsewhere there’s a grappling hook used to scale cliffs and safely lower yourself into caves and the like, as well as swinging across gaps like Indiana Jones, and new weapons including an automatic, silent crossbow for stealth and “Signature Weapons” (expensive, unlockable guns decked out with several modifications) including an MG42 (which is supposed to be a mounted machine gun) with a scope and extra-powerful ammo that turned the last mission into the M60 from “Commando”- holding down the trigger for a few seconds killed anything and everything, including helicopters. The gameplay is the same solid, enjoyable mix of tight, responsive shooting and decent stealth with all of the excellent new additions resulting in it being a lot more fun and over the top than FC3, combing modern sensibilities with a more old-school sense of action.

Overall, “Far Cry 4″ is a damn good time. The story can be underwhelming at times, but for the most part is interesting, gripping and with interesting characters and with a great ending that puts everything that came before it into a new perspective. The gameplay is a solid, responsive first person shooter with a whole load of new stuff thrown in that make the game more fun and evolve the formula considerably from FC3. This and “Assassin’s Creed Rogue” show that Ubisoft do still know what they’re doing even if they do badly mess up now and then (Looking at you, AC Unity), and it’s definitely worth a look if you’re even remotely interested in the game, and particularly if you’re a fan of the genre.

“I came in a sane man and came out… like this. But you… you will come out a king.”

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Shadow Warrior (Playstation 4 version) Review

Last year Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog brought the world “Shadow Warrior”- a modern remake of an old-school first person shooter on the Build engine that was by all accounts very racist. What with my laptop being inconsistent but generally not great at running games I was pleased to hear the announcement that the new Shadow Warrior would be ported to PS4 in 2014 as part of Sony’s new “Port every good PC game to PS4″ deal that I for one am taking full advantage of. Shadow Warrior came out, I finished it (eventually) and here I am reviewing it for you all now. Come get some Wang.

You are Lo Wang (as you were in the original), a surprisingly badass killing machine and huge nerd whose greatest talents are murdering people with a katana and cramming his last name into jokes (which surprisingly doesn’t get old). He’s sent to retrieve a mystical sword from a collector and, after murdering a whole lot of goons finds himself in the midst of a demon invasion. Teaming up with a bitchy, wise-cracking, amnesiac demon named Hoji, Lo Wang sets off to retrieve all three parts of the sword and kill every demon that crosses his path. The story is actually quite central to the game rather than being fluff to string all the killing together, and is surprisingly good- particularly the backstory, which is revealed piece-by-piece after tracking down and stabbing mysterious golems crafted by Hoji. The plot involving Lo Wang retrieving the swords isn’t as strong, but it kept me interested, mainly due to the excellent buddy-movie chemistry between him and Hoji, and the game’s strong writing; Wang’s genuinely quite funny in a Travis Touchdown sort of way.  It’s a long game, too, and manages to keep things consistent throughout, again thanks to the writing, and the solid gameplay (more on that in a minute). The whole thing reminds me of “Wolfenstein The New Order” as a new FPS with Old-school elements that has a surprisingly good story, and while Shadow Warrior’s isn’t as good as “Wolfenstein…”‘s, it’s definitely not an afterthought.

The gameplay though, is where Shadow Warrior really shines. It wears its old-school FPS heart on its sleeve- throwing hordes of enemies at you to be strafed around and blown to pieces. What sets it apart is the Katana; it’s always available to you, and is both efficient and really fun to use. While the guns in the game definitely have their uses (the bosses in particular) I always found the most satisfying approach was to wade in with the blade- lopping off heads and limbs and using its unique super moves to blow enemies into chunks or spin around taking off five or six heads at once. One of the biggest problems with the gameplay is that a lot of of the time the guns just feel unnecessary. I barely used the revolver, and apart from boss fights I mainly used the rocket launcher, switching to the shotgun or SMG when necessary which wasn’t that often. Sub-bosses are best dealt with using the most powerful gun you have because they’re all really annoying in their own ways (for the first half of the game the absolute bane of my experience were the giant Minotaur-type enemies that reel you in with some kind of energy lasso thing), which is a shame because you get the feeling the sword could be used for every situation in the game (pretty sure I heard one of the developers say that it is) but sometimes you’re railroaded into using the guns. Unique to the PS4 is using the trackpad thing to activate magic spells as an alternative to their default input of double tapping the left stick. When it works it’s fine. When it works. Which it doesn’t at the worst times, mainly when I’m surrounded and at low health, and instead of healing Lo Wang keeps raising his sword (using the same button involved in all the magic abilities) unhelpfully. That’s it for the PS4 features, but it’s something at least. The upgrade system in the game is fantastic, with three different areas and three corresponding currencies. Money buys weapon upgrades and ammo (a Four-barreled shotgun makes an appearance, though sadly not as outlandish as the one from “Blood Dragon”), karma (points that culminate in redeemable tokens, essentially) get you various learned techniques ranging from increased damage and stamina to finding more money in boxes and the ability to use the aforementioned Minotaur enemy’s head as a laser cannon, and Ki Crystals upgrade your magic spells, including the all-important healing spell, a shockwave and a shield generated from Wang’s left hand. There’s a whole lot to get, though unfortunately the spells and their upgrades proved to be almost entirely useless to me throughout the game. Other people may find more use for them but I only ever relied on healing, and finding new Ki crystals caused me to upgrade my magic out of obligation more than anything else (once I had all the healing upgrades, obviously).

Overall, “Shadow Warrior” is a good time. The PS4 track pad spells are frustratingly inconsistent but can be ignored, the story is absorbing and interesting due to good chemistry between its two leads, solid writing and intirguing backstory and the gameplay is solid over the top old-school shooting while the Katana adds a new layer of fun and depth to proceedings. It’s definitely worth a look, particularly as it retails at a reduced price, and with the help of “Wolfenstein The New Order” shows that the first person shooter is a still a genre to be reckoned with and taken seriously.

“I give it a seven on the Wang-o-meter”.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18