You Died or: How I stopped worrying and learned to praise the sun

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Pictured: Bastards

I was wrong about Dark Souls. To a degree, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In my review of Dark Souls 3 and its honourable mentions entry in my Game of the Year 2016 list I stated that it is the only good Dark Souls game. Well, I’m here to correct myself, for the record if nothing else. For the record: the original Dark Souls is excellent, but it still has problems. Obviously I’m not going to do a review of Dark Souls at this point, but I am going to give some thoughts on it both good and bad, because it does still have problems, and I can’t ignore them. Let the meeting halfway begin!

First of all I’m going to talk about difficulty. Yeah, Dark Souls and Bloodborne are hard, I’m not talking about that, everyone knows that already and general difficulty has never been my problem with these games. My problem is when it gets cheap, and regardless of what the Git Gud crowd well tell you this game can be incredibly cheap. Attacks that go through walls, bizarre hit boxes, making you drop into boss arenas and take damage even though there’s literally no other way down, these things are a problem. Having now finished the original game I have finally killed Fatman and Little Boy (seen in the picture above, real names (from right to left) Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough)- a boss that stopped progress dead on every one of my previous playthroughs. Maybe it’s because I insist on playing the game by myself with only NPC summons but that should be a viable way to play the game, and indeed it is on every other part of the game. Also, to briefly stray off topic the one time I did try to beat OnS online I was invaded by another player and killed, therefore losing the limited item I required to summon NPCs. Personally I think if you’re going to invade and be invaded you should give permission or be on a separate server, or at least have an offline/online option on the main menu like in Bloodborne. Anyway to return to my previous point there are bosses and fights that aren’t fair in a way that goes deeper than “your sword takes a second or two to start swinging”. Ornstein and Smough are bullshit- it’s two on one, that’s the very definition of an unfair fight, and you have to fight a super powered one of whichever you don’t kill first. The Bed of Chaos, a later boss, is borderline broken- a platforming boss in a game with shit platforming controls. My point is the game isn’t the perfect, “every death is your fault” masterpiece people say it is, but that’s okay. This may seem like a redundant point but it matters to me; when I started the game for the first time I was one of the people that spouted the “every death is your fault” (which I’ll be referring to as EDIYF from now on) line because I was scared to criticise the game, then had an epiphany and went aggressively in the other direction. Now I’ve found a pleasant middle ground- Dark Souls is fantastic and I love it; Solaire, Siegmeyer and Sieglinde, New Londo; a bleak, flooded nightmare vault filled with Darkwraiths, ghosts and the Four Kings. Blight Town, Quelaag and The Fair Lady and the haunting, ash desert of The Kiln of the First Flame. Knight Artorias, Manus in the world’s most nightmarish archeological site, and Sif the Great Grey Wolf; these are all things that will stay with me- these are a what make the game great. It’s just that for all of those there’s two re-skins of the tutorial boss, the Bed of Chaos, curse build-up, getting magic’d through the wall by Dark Sun Gwyndolin, sniped off the ledge by the Anor Londo archers and killed by something that brushed gently past you because it counts as you taking an attack. New Londo and The Kiln are good, but the Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith are slogs through shit bosses, eye-ruiningly bright lava and boring enemies. The pleasant middle ground I mentioned is that I love the game, but acknowledge that it has problems- it’s flawed but still good. I’ve beaten the game twice now, killed all the bosses and done the DLC. So to sum this whole thing up I’ve made a transition: from bootlicking hyperbole to disdain, to a middle ground when I can admit that I was wrong and that it is a very good game but with flaws. You have to discover things on your own terms, as I’ve become increasingly aware of. Anyway, as I said this is more for the record than anything. I’m away. Don’t you dare go hollow.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Death is no Disgrace : Thoughts on Call of Duty Infinite Warfare

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I love Call of Duty. Apparently I’m some kind of freakish anomaly though, because I literally only play them for the campaign, but I do love me a COD campaign. Since the original Modern Warfare I’ve beaten them all with the exception of World at War and Black Ops 3- I point this to give context to what I’m about to write, and so you know that I know a thing or two about these games. When Infinite Warfare was announced I wasn’t particualrly interested, but I didn’t get all the flak it was taking. Sure, Battlefield 1 looked better but this looked fine, certainly better than Ghosts, which of the ones I’ve played remains the absolute worst by a considerable margin. I played and finished IW’s campaign over Christmas, and while I don’t feel like I can review a COD game without playing the multiplayer, I do want to talk about the campaign. Spoilers to follow

The Cast

Apart from the player character being voiced and portrayed by Brian Bloom (BJ Blazkowicz and Kane from Kane and Lynch) the cast is nicely diverse. A Black, English Staff  Sergeant and his Irish and Canadian marines accompany you on most missions, and the player character’s closest friend and colleague is a Female Lebanese Lieutenant, who does everything you do and more. The characters never reach the heights of say, Soap, Price and Gaz/Ghost but they’re a likeable bunch, and player character Nick Reyes is full voiced and gets to have a personality both during and inbetween missions. The primary conflict from a character point of view is Reyes’ overly close attachment to his men and women- he’s made Commander and Captain of the Space Ship hub level you inhabit early on in the game and so has to put people in harm’s way when that’s the last thing he wants to do. But it has to be done, because…

The Villains

…the enemies this time around are a hardcore death cult based on Mars that force twelve year old boys to undergo fifteen years of military service, consider sucide missions part of the job and treat the very act of not handing yourself over to them for execution baffling. Kit Harrington’s character Admirial Salen Kotch (pictured above) is in the game for about two minutes before he shoots one of his own men just to show that he’s completely unattached and therefore has the resolve to win. This article’s name; “Death is no Disgrace” is his catchphrase, and in context is basically means “let us execute you, it’s no big deal.” What’s weird is despite using tactics that make them look like some desperate, last-gasp resistance they outnumber the protagonists’ faction by a considerable margin, and are basically the empire to your revel alliance. Reyes and co are part of the UN and represent Earth as a whole, whereas the Settlement Defence Force hate everything even tangentially related to Earth and actively seek to destroy it, being based on Mars in an undisclosed year where travelling through and living in space and on different planets is commonplace.

Space

This is the aspect most people seemed worried about or disdainful about on the run up to its release, but for me Infinity Ward pulled it off, especially when you compare it to the missions in Ghosts where you went into space. It’s much less cluttered, enemies are clearly marked on your HUD, and the way you actually move through space is smooth and easy. A combination of boosting up and down with we free 3-D movement, a grappling hook used for both quickly travelling directly to a single point or CQC killing enemies and the ability to spin your entire body left or right for a different angle of fire make being in Space enjoyable, which is good because you spend a fair bit of time there. The missions set on planets are largely standard COD fare but there are unique standouts, like one where you have to stay out of direct sunlight, as its proximity powers the killer robots you’re trapped with, and will cook you to death. There’s also a fair bit of spaceship combat, in which you stay in one area and manoeuvre around it shooting small fighters and big warships. It’s fine, but nothing special at all.

Sidemissions and load outs

With the exception of one mission, every mission once Reyes is Captain of The Retribution lets you pick what weapons and gear you take in with you, which hasn’t happened since Black Ops 2. It might not seem like much but it adds a personal layer to every mission, which I always like. Also it has side missions worth playing. Unlike the out of place tower defence shite in Black Ops 2 that were directly linked to important story events that would change if you failed them, these side missions focus on the almost pirate-esque, guerrilla raids conducted by the UNSA- sneak aboard an SDF ship, kill high value targets/rescue hostages/steal a weapon or piece of tech and get the hell out again, blowing up the ship behind you if possible. Only one of these missions is mandatory (as in doing one is mandatory, not one specific mission), but with the exception of the ones centred on space combat I gladly did them all.

The Conflict

SDF outnumber the UNSA and use sucide tactics, USNA have to stoop to their tactics.

The guerrilla tactics play into the larger conflict depicted in the story; you are the underdogs, and the Goliath you’re fighting is more than happy to send waves of waves of themselves at you on sucide missions with batting an eye, because that’s just how they fight. It all comes to a head during the game’s final mission, when almost the entire named cast dies in a suicide mission of your own, because as far as they’re concerned that’s the only way you can win. At one point the super weapon you’ve commandeered to destroy the AA guns protecting the SDF’s base stops working, and the fighter pilot you order to destroy the final gun tells you he’s out of ammo. So Commander Reyes tells him that it’s really important that gun go away, so the fighter pilot kamikazes into it. The very last thing to happen to Reyes is being blown out a window and, as his helmet breaks, dying in the cold, heartless vacuum of space. Now, killing the protagonists of Call of Duty games is nothing new- Infinity Ward use it a lot in the CODs they helm, but the way it happens here is emblematic of the tone and narrative in this game, and what marks it as an evolutionary step for the series. Whereas in, for example, Modern Warfare 2 you play as a voiceless, faceless soldier named Gary “Roach” Sanderson who dies to reveal the twist identity of a hitherto unknown villain, Commander Nick Reyes spends the whole game with a prominently displayed voice and face, doing everything he can to prevent as many deaths and injuries to his subordinates as he can until, in his mind at least, he has no choice other than to send the majority of them to their deaths and die himself.

For or better or worse (entirely dependent on personal opinion) Infinite Warfare’s campaign is a big step forward into new territory for this series. Ever since Modern Warfare 3 Infinity Ward’s been floundering while Treyarch and newcomers Sledgehammer have made solid games that kept the fire alight without doing anything particualrly spectacular or new. It makes sense Infinity Ward bundled this with Modern Warfare because they’ve had a similar effect on the series. It’s just a shame they had to hold it ransome in what will always be an incredibly scummy business decision. Infinite Warfare’s really good though, and I do recommend it. Well, the campaign at least.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Game of the Year 2016

2016 was a good year for games, which is nice considering how shite it was for everything else. As a slight tweak to the formula I’ve picked five and only five games for my GOTY list this year, but as per usual the list will only consist of games I’ve reviewed. With that in mind, I do also have two quick honourable mentions, one of which I didn’t review. Alright, now we understand each other, let’s do this thing.

Honourable mention #1: DOOM

DOOM was one I didn’t get around to reviewing, but can’t let escape the year un-praised. Immensely satisfying combat with just the right pace, weight and level of gore, an excellent soundtrack and a surprisingly good story and characters; DOOM is a first person shooting masterpiece. Everything about it works, the simple gameplay of moving, shooting and glory killing never gets tiresome and the new, deeper story elements Bethesda has layered on top of the original Doom’s base is genuinely engaging. As for the Doom marine himself; he’s The Doom Slayer now, and all of Hell quiver at the thought of him. I loved it to bits and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Honourable mention #2: Dark Souls 3

I did review this one, where I made the controversial statement that this is the only good Dark Souls game. I’m still playing it now actually (third playthrough), but its various niggles kept it from the list, one of the worst being the Irithyll Jailers- enemies that cause your health bar to shrink by looking at you, run over and stun you then grind you into the dirt, to death. Ahem. Anyway to move back to positives it takes its cues from Bloodborne in that it’s faster, fairer and generally more engaging. Characters are more interesting and generally easier to find, fast travelling from the start and a central hub to return to frequently allows the player a sense of comforting familiarity rather than just being constantly beaten over the head and abandoned in the wilderness. Plus parts of it are legitimately amazing in terms of level design, lore and boss. The stand outs for me are Irithyll and Sulyvahn, The Cathedral of the Deep, the Twin Princes, The Untended Graves and Champion Gundyr and the Kiln of The First Flame and the Soul of Cinder.

Right then, on to the list proper, in reverse order.

5. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Eyes of Heaven

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I had expected this to place higher, until I played it. As a JoJo adaptation it’s impeccable, as was previous title All Star Battle, but as an actual game it has real problems. The new 3-D 2v2 brawler style of play makes things a tad messy, and fights can go on for a long time depending on who’s involved. Stand users without combat focused stands have more room to manoeuvre and are generally more viable but combat focused characters still have the advantage. Also the game’s original story is like bad Jotaro fan fiction with a new stand that’s ridiculously OP and is beaten by an almighty arse pull, and it feels artificially lengthened at times. So why is it on the list then? Well it’s fun, the unlock system for costumes and such is vastly improved, and if you’re a JoJo fan, which I most assuredly am, it’s so faithful that a lot of its issues melt away when playing it.

4. Deus Ex Mankind Divided

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Mankind Divided was an improvement on the already solid Human Revolution in every way. It managed to make cardboard cut-out professional dickhead Adam Jensen into a more nuanced, likeable character, its version of the future was more well-realised than HR (even if its impact was slightly reduced by putting you in the shoes of a literal killing machine) and the story had real stand-outs that were all linked to characters. The train station attack and how it affects Adam, infiltrating the apartment building occupied by a machine cult, obtaining a pass for one civilian in dire need of it, literally everything that happens during your infiltration of the massive Augs-only slum city. The gameplay was uniformly good- stealth, combat and social interactions all intermingling which, when combined with the upgrades on offer made it feel like you worked out a plan for each mission yourself, and did it your way, but every other way was just as viable. Also, you’re basically a Cyborg detective.

3. HITMAN

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It might seem surprising that this isn’t higher on the list, or indeed my game of the year. Back when Sapienza came out I full expected this to be my number one; its core gameplay is the best the series has ever been, the challenges are wonderfully done and tied directly into rewards that are all useful and actually pertinent to the game at large, and the story, while not brilliant, was fine, and wisely relegated to between mission cutscenes instead of taking centre stage like in Absolution. My main problems with it were a lack of meaningful consequences and a score attack, number-based rating system, and the levels are of frustratingly inconsistent quality. France and Thailand are good, Italy is great, Morocco and Japan are alright and America is bloody awful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent game overall and I enjoyed my time with it, but we’re still not back to the former glory of  Blood Money. Still, it’s a massive, triumphant step in the right direction and absolutely deserving of a place on this list.

2. Mother Russia Bleeds

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A recently released (on Ps4 anyway) and reviewed, but anticipated game on my part, Mother Russia Bleeds is the grimiest, probably most violent game I’ve ever played and I loved every second of it. A side scrolling beat ’em up about four Roma pumping themselves full of Krokodil cut with the super soldier serum from Captain America and battering their way through an alternate history version of 80s USSR where the Mafiya control everything and literally everything is awful. The gameplay is simple but immensely satisfying, the soundtrack is fantastic, the graphics are lovingly re-created retro and it stays a crazy, over-the-top, nightmarish slog of punching, hallucinations, vomiting, and acting like a cocky arsehole from start to brutal finish. At one point you’re trapped in an arena and fight a bear that’s wearing a metal mask with what looks like a mohawk on it. That’s not even the most outlandish thing that happens. I love this game so much.

1. Mafia 3

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Mafia 3 is my game of the year. I was looking forward to it since it was first announced, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I love Lincoln Clay. I love playing as Lincoln Clay; I love tearing around 60s New Orleans listening to the frankly vast amount of great licensed music, murdering racists and criminals by the truck load like a politically motivated, Black version of The Punisher. Its core gameplay of clearing out dudes with stealth and/or combat and destroying their criminal operations to move your way up the ladder to get at the Kingpins who run New Bordeuax, Louisiana never really  changes but never ceased to be entertaining and engaging. Its story of family, loyalty and one man slowly walking down a path he may never come back from but is walking for the right reasons is a good one, and peppered with interesting characters. It’s all wrapped up in a smart framing device, and with its USP of dividing territory between three underbosses offering different incentives, a well-realised setting and the aforementioned terrific soundtrack of both licensed and original music its clear to me that Mafia 3 is the best game I’ve played in 2016.

So then, that’s 2016 over and done with, and for the first time in three years I’ve actually got this list done on time. 2016 was a good year with a lot of contenders for this list, so consider the five that made it very good indeed. Anyway, first proper review of 2017 will be Resident Evil 7, but before that is a “thoughts on…” piece coming tomorrow. See you then.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Batman The Telltale Series Review

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(Note that the video I mentioned back in my review of episode 1 may well still happen, but for now I’m doing a written review)

Telltale have been on a steady decline since The Wolf Among Us. None of the games they’ve released since that have been bad, per se, but Walking Dead Season 2 couldn’t hope to rival its amazing predecessor, Game of Thrones was a story that, while interesting couldn’t really affect much at all in the wider canon and Tales from the Borderlands would have worked just as well as a miniseries on Netflix. Batman could have potentially fallen into those same traps; low interactivity so there’s less chance of the player messing up his whole flawless, inhuman mystique and not being able to rock the boat too much in an existing, well-documented canon. To top it off playing as Batman is likely to mean a whole lot of QTE fistfights. Fortunately, the game manages to avoid those pitfalls and is the best thing Telltale has done since TWAU.

The story Telltale has written is, for the most part, strong, and goes in some genuinely interesting places. It starts with the classic “Young Batman vs The Mob” arc involving old hand Carmine Falcone and Harvey Dent running for mayor and moves on to a scandal involving Thomas Wayne potentially being shady and generally awful and a new villain closely tied to Arkham Asylum, but with an actual deep connection rather than that flimsy shit they came up with for the Arkham Knight. It introduces other villains sparingly, focuses on developing Bruce Wayne and his relationships with other characters, and isn’t afraid to get really rather dark and brutal at times. It does unfortunately peeter pit towards the end, but it has enough strong character moments to keep it at least worth seeing through. The aforementioned focus on Bruce Wayne is the game’s strongest aspect: while Batman gets to do very basic crime scene investigations and lots and lots of beating the shit out of people Bruce Wayne has to navigate increasingly dire, tricky social situations; his friendship with Harvey and position as his campaign’s financier, the scandal involving his Father and his name being dragged through the mud, and repeated encounters with Selina Kyle are all situations where Telltale’s bread and butter of conversations and choices come into play, and are by far the most interesting parts of the game. Potential consequences pop up suddenly but in ways that make sense in the context of the story; for example things you’ve said to Harvey are all put in a different context when he stops taking his pills midway through the series and his dissociative identity disorder hits him hard. There is one weak link that stands out like a sore thumb however, and that’s The Penguin. Oswald Cobblepot is now a skinny, conventionally handsome young man in a greatcoat with military training and, crucially, Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend. He’s linked to the new villain and was effected by Thomas Wayne’s aforementioned shadiness, but it’s just an excuse for Bruce Wayne to have an antagonist and The Penguin himself is just irritating and has more of a Joker thing going on than anything. Also he’s cockney for some reason, and his accent is awful.

Gameplay wise the only USPs here are crime scene investigations and deciding whether to approach situations as Batman or Bruce, when you’re in a position to choose. The latter is a goodaddition that feeds into the whole idea of being Bruce Wayne. The former is a nice idea that has no real depth to it, but its inclusion adds a bit of variety to Batman’s scenes. Basically you find clues and connect them in pairs, and Batman recreates what happened with super duper hologram vision. The bulk of Batman’s sections involve beating the shit out of people with quick time events, and planning out the fastest and most efficient way to beat the shit out of people with quick time events, then doing so. The game does try to replicate the tactician and detective sides of Batman but they don’t add anything in a practical sense. The choices here are a tad less dramatic than other Telltale games because Batman doesn’t kill people (unless you’re defending Batman V Superman on the Internet) and by the very nature of the story he’ll come out on top in the end, but they’re still good, and again Bruce Wayne does have some genuinely tricky situations to navigate.

Overall Batman is good. The actual Batman scenes are mediocre but pick up when he isn’t just punching people, and the stuff with Bruce Wayne is fantastic. Certain characters are weak and the latter parts of the story are definitely weaker than its beginning, but it’s a good Batman story that understands the characters and does some new, interesting things whilst deftly handling classic elements. Best thing Telltale’s done since TWAU, definitely check it out.

by James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Mother Russia Bleeds Review

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Mother Russia Bleeds is the grimiest game I’ve ever played. Even in a world where both Kane and Lynches, both Condemneds and Manhunt exist, this is grimier. Released on PC back in September and finally snuck out yesterday on PS4 (I literally stumbled on it by accident while wondering what to play, having been wanting to play it since it was released) it’s a game about four Roma pit fighters who are kidnapped by the Bratva, pumped full of a drug that makes you super strong but destroys your body and decide the best thing to do is best people to death until they get revenge. It’s a side-scrolling beat ’em up in the Final Fight/Streets of Rage tradition; one to four of the Roma protagonists (depending on whether you use bots and/or local co-op) move through a series of varied shitholes and otherwise grim locations kicking people’s heads in to a fantastic soundtrack. The combat system is simple but effective- light and heavy attacks, grabs and throws and a dodge, and weapons, some of which are guns. What makes it the grimiest game I’ve ever played is the house they build on that foundation: the only health item is Nekro-tainted blood (Nekro being the drug the characters are addicted to. It’s based on real-life Nightmare drug Krokodil which I don’t recommend looking up unless you’ve a strong disposition) sucked from the convulsing bodies of enemies and injected directly into your veins. Reviving downed bots/other players without a stock of Nekro will result in your character drawing their own blood, injecting it into their comrade then throwing up. The whole thing’s surprisingly violent; punches and kicks have a real impact, enemies show wounds as they take damage and because they’re all full of Nekro you can crouch over them and punch them in the face ten times and they can still get up with their face hanging off and come over for more. This is before the aforementioned twitching and convulsing as you draw their blood with a syringe you found lying next to you when you woke up in a dingy laboratory. There’s a lot of visceral, brutal instances of people being beaten to death. Interestingly this is juxtaposed with huge, over-the-top action set-pieces; a prison break, fighting on top of a train, a gay nightclub with a facade of people having a good time that hides back rooms full of murderers in pig masks. Hell, at one point you’re trapped in an arena and have to fight a Bear that’s been pumped full of Nekro and forced into a steel mask. The story itself is largely just there to keep the main characters moving from face to un-punched face, but there’s a character determined to get the Roma involved in a revolution to overthrow this universe’s government that’s in the pocket of the Bratva that ends up steering the plot. The focus is on the and the character’s struggle with Nekro and the way the drug is depicted with foreboding hallucinations of a giant beating heart, walls of flesh and an ominous skeleton creature is excellent, and it’s this aspect of the story that stands out.

The game maintains a consistent level of difficulty for the most part, though it spikes at certain moments. Bosses are all huge, unique enemies that take either a thorough beating or some sort of specific action, with the latter causing the most trouble. One early boss in particular that needs to be repeatedly knocked into an advancing carbine harvester that instantly downs you if you touch it gave me a fair bit of grief, and the final boss has four separate stages with no checkpoints, but at no point did it feel insurmountable or particualrly unfair. I played through it with one A.I companion, which felt like just the right amount of support; I tried playing with the thee bots and it was a mess, where fights were visually confusing and although it was harder to be downed there was often not enough Nekro to go around. Bots are competent enough in general combat, but they waste Nekro and don’t know how to handle anything more complex than simple beatings, making them useless for certain bosses, though they can easily handle lackies. There are also certain short sections involving firearms that if not carefully approached will chew through your health in no time. One bit involving shotguns took me several tries. Thankfully though guns do just as much damage when you use them, and they don’t turn up that often.

Mother Russia Bleeds is horrible. It’s grimy, grim, dark and relentlessly violent, and I love it. I beat it in two sittings and loved every moment of it; the art style, the satisfying, visceral combat, the imagery, the soundtrack, it all comes together to make something truly excellent. Definitely give it a look, if you’ve got a taste for this sort of thing.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Eyes of Heaven Review

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is the best. If you watch/read any of it then you know that already. If not then I assure you, reader, that it is indeed the best. If you’re in the latter camp I’m sorry to say this game isn’t for you; much like previous game “All Star Battle” it’s a decent if not particularly deep fighting game that’s carried by its sheer dedication to its source material and fan-pleasing. The gameplay isn’t good enough to make it worth playing if you’re not a fan of the series, at least I would t say so. Feel free to stay for the review, though massive spoilers for its story follow. If you’re a JoJo fan and want a spoiler free review: yeah it’s good. Unlocking stuff is much less stupid this time, the combat’s solid and it retains ASB’s psychotic attention to detail in its references.

So unlike ASB’s terribly lop-sided, text-based re-telling of the manga’s plot EOH tells an original story featuring all eight JoJos teaming up to take out an alternate universe version of DIO who has a new version of The World that’s the most broken, OP, everything-proof shield Stand in the entire series. Think Gold Experience Requiem, King Crimson or Made in Heaven are OP? Well they don’t have anything on ZA WARUDO OVER HEAVEN, which can literally do whatever the hell it wants, as the plot requires. Officially its power is “Overwriting Reality”, but in practice it basically means DIO can change literally anything about any aspect of the world, with the most prominent usage being turning characters from throughout the manga’s run into his slaves. But that’s not too big a problem, right? He manga’s had characters with seemingly unbeatable powers, the anime’s showcasing one at the time of writing, surely this isn’t that different? Well yes and no. Yes the actual stand isn’t too bad, what’s bad is the way the story deals with it. See unlike in (SPOILERS FOR THE MANGA) Part 6, where a character with the ability to speed up time does so to the point where the universe resets and all the main characters bar one die, because logically there is no escape or counter attack (SPOILERS END), here DIO’s powers are overcome by Jotaro Kujo (the part 3 version), who has “The same type of Stand” as The World Over Heaven. Now at first I took this to mean “short range power type” like Crazy Diamond and arguably Stone Free, but what it actually means is “Star Platinum can also overwrite reality, a power Jotaro will pull out of his arse during the final battle, like he did with Time Stop in Part 3” This the culmination of a story so obsessed with making Jotaro look cool and useful it’s basically bad fan fiction; people throughout the story comment on how good Jotaro is, at one point Jonathan Joestar insists that Jotaro is the only one who can stop DIO at the point where as far as everyone knows Jotaro’s offensive capabilities extend to punching things quickly. This is despite the fact that Giorno Giovanna is also there, and has been shown to still have use of Gold Experience Requiem. You can choose what character you use for the most part but the game will often easily you to Jotaro, and he does the bulk of the work in cutscenes, even when dealing with characters a unknown and unrelated to him. It’s not even the wiser, older Jotaro from Part 4, it’s angry young man Jotaro. The actual bulk of the story mode is just as irritating; go to a location from each part of the manga, beat DIO slaves, collect parts of the Holy Corpse from Part 7. OH NO! DIO took them all! Go get them back. Okay, ready to fight him? OH NO HE MADE YOUR FRIENDS INTO SLAVES AGAIN! It’s mostly repetition and beatings, with hardly any time given to the absurd character moments that can and do arise from this situation. It does have its moments though, like when both versions of Yoshikage Kira turn up and complain that they just want to lead a quiet life together but they keep being bothered, or when Old Joseph gets a chance to prevent Caesar from running off alone to fight Wham. The story is a wasted opportunity really- the one time every JoJo gets together and most of them barely get to do anything except get into a few fights and stand around cheering on Jotaro while he does all the work and forms a new timeline where every non-villain survives.

Whereas ASB was a one-on-one 3-D fighter, EOH takes a more open, arena fighter approach. Every match besides a few in story mode are two-on-two, which has its own problems as well as benefits. On the plus side different character pairings offer unique dialogue and super moves, on the other hand re-creating fights with fewer than four people is impossible (the game has the rooftops in Cairo and the Colosseum as arenas but DIO and Diavolo have to have partners) and if one character is defeated the other one gets a storable health boost instead of their super move, which is suddenly locked off. Said moves often miss because of their weird hit boxes and the fact that they’re all activated by sprinting full pelt at your enemy. The A.I is woeful; both partners and enemies will often just stand around doing nothing for long stretches, and I’d often notice that my partner had full health while I was nearly dead, because I had run in and engaged both opponents by myself while my partner stayed behind to pose (probably). Also the lip synching is terrible- an audio clip starts playing, the characters flap their gums in a way that doesn’t even try to match the rhythm of the speech then they stop when the clip ends. It does have definite plus points though. While some attacks don’t translate to the less focused combat, the more open style of play means that characters with stands other than rapid-punching big dudes are actually viable options now, and the way they adapt, for example, the respective powers of Gold Experience Requiem, King Crimson and Heaven’s Door are excellent. Also costumes, colours, win poses are now unlocked with money earned in-game and can be clearly viewed before buying them and before selecting them. No more having to wait around until maybe a boss turns up, then fighting them over and over again hoping to unlock the outfit you want (but obviously you don’t) then you can’t even see them before you select them, as it inexplicably was in ASB.

Eyes of Heaven is a mixed bag. If Jotaro is your favourite JoJo to the point where you’re happy to see every other character besides the villains hype him up and rely on him to solve their problems like Alice in the Resident Evil films, then you’ll get a lot more out of the story than I did. The more open, less focused (not in a bad way) fights mean more of the large roster of characters are viable options and if you’re a JoJo fan then there’s more than enough here to enjoy, to the point where I can and do recommend it. If you’re not a fan, this won’t convert you, and personally I wouldn’t bother with it, but if you are, give it a look.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Gears of War 4 Review

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Credit where it’s due, developer The Coalition built up as much good faith as they could before this, their first original game in the Gears of War series, and one that continues a story that unambiguously ended (to quote Simon Miller of VideogamerUK “We’ve won. But Marcus is sad.”). Their current gen remaster of the original game was excellent, and both that and Gears 4 come bundled with digital copies of every other game in the series. Despite having a new main cast and what was advertised as a more horror focused direction they brought back series mainstays and seemed to retain the core game mechanics; put simply The Coalition really want you to like this game. I picked it up on the cheap recently, and to put things into perspective: I’m a fan of the series but I don’t think they’re amazing, I beat all three recently and I went into this expecting at least decent things.

They cocked it up. Well, at least they do to begin with. Like the previous three games it’s split into acts, but unlike those games the first two of five acts are all about fighting robots. Waves upon waves of robots all clad in Warhammer 40K Space Marine blue, armed with nerf guns fighting a Scooby gang of new characters in colourful environments ripped from some horrific Kinect remake of Knack. You are JD Fenix, son of Marcus from the first game, who now lives in what appears to be this universe’s equivalent of a Native American reservation. Robots run the main human settlements, an irritable woman in glasses with no discernable personality besides irritation is in charge of all the robots, and ever since the end of the Locust war in Gears 3 everything’s alright, if you like robots. The first two acts are terrible, to the point that if I hadn’t seen any trailers for the game I would have stopped playing it. Thankfully once you’ve got past this point you never have to fight them again, and from that point the game does pick up speed, despite still having problems. The important part of the story is that the Locust aren’t dead; they’re starting to mutate after hibernating and they’re all coming back with vaguely defined new strength. You find this out by slogging through an abandoned town full of monsters and covered in goo and then break into a Locust mass grave in a mine- this part of the game is considerably better. Unfortunately the new characters remain poor throughout. Marcus is enjoyably gruff and irritable but your token black mate and Native American (I think) girlfriend (again, I think) are bland, with attempts at snappy, light-hearted dialogue that leans heavily on jokes and rapidly becomes annoying. Chief annoyance is JD himself, who for all intents and purpose is buff Nathan Drake but without the climbing and fondness for the phrase “oh crap” to top it all off the game just abruptly ends on a “it’s only just begun” note, and the now older Augustus Cole and Damon Baird did t settle down and get married after the war like they obviously should have done.

Gameplay wise things have been tweaked, but the core mechanics are the same as they’ve always been. The aforementioned robots don’t clearly show if they’re taking damage or not, and all seem to take masses of bullets to kill, especially these bloody shielded drones that pop up now and then. Gears as a series is about over the top blood and gore, it’s the game that put a chainsaw on the end of a gun as a one-hit kill melee weapon. In previous games one of the one-liners triggered by this event is “Nothin’ but bits…” So WHY AM I FIGHTING ROBOTS? Seriously this may not sound like a big thing but it’s forty percent of the game, it really spoils it. However on the fleshy, organic side of things it’s a good time, though it feels a bit easier and less hectic than previous games. For one thing enemies won’t finish you off and your hip, young mates will save you practically without fail, combined with less pressure from enemies and the new cover attack system where you can vault over walls/pull enemies over them to stun them and execute them with a button press. Of the three new enemies for this installment one is just the brute from Dead Space but with its weak spot in its armoured chest rather than its back and the other two are irritating, armoured quadrupeds, one of them likes to pounce on you like a dog that’s pleased to see you and the other one sucks you up into its gut like in Men in Black. All three are pretty much exclusively used as sub bosses, but they all work fine. There are a fair few new weapons but while some are good for a laugh first time you use them none of them are as good as the existing guns.

Overall Gears 4 is shaky, but it’s headed in the right direction. The new characters are irritating and fighting robots can absolutely piss off but the time spent fighting organic enemies are solid and the story they’ve started to tell here has promise, as long as they push on with it in Gears 5 and stop spending all their time on set-up. The sequel will probably be great, just like Gears 2 was, but this one is a somewhat rough start.

By James Lambert18

@jameslambert18

Watch Dogs 2 Review

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Remember Watch Dogs? It was that game people called “The first true next gen game” (of the current generation) before its release, but then it turned out to be a mediocre at best sandbox game with a generic, angsty white guy in the lead role, a crap story that took itself way too seriously and terrible forced stealth sections. Also it marked the start of Ubisoft’s bizarre misuse of the word “iconic”. It was rubbish, all told, and certainly not what Ubisoft were after. But they’re not ones to let that sort of thing get them down so obviously a sequel was due at some point, probably one about Ballcap J Deadniece’s continued efforts against the mob, right? Well actually it’s about a charismatic young black man and his likeable, diverse friends rising up to wreak havoc against a shady organisation whose practices are both uncomfortably plausible and unambiguously evil. Not quite what I was expecting, but that premise alone made me buy the game.

You are Marcus, massive nerd and all round top bloke who joins hacker group Dedsec, who are now a pro-active team of vigilante types who spotlight dodgy companies and organisations, send Marcus in to prove what’s happening and potentially stop at least part of it then publicly circulate the evidence they collect. People knowingly let Dedsec use their phones’ processing power, and discounting the number of security guards I murdered (though you don’t have to, and personally they deserve it given for whom they work) they are unequivocally the good guys here. It’s a smart move, switching from a psychopath in a tenchcoat acting from the shadows to a group that publicly works out in the open- you can even do the whole game dressed in Dedsec branded clothing. The story is almost entirely there to string together the various hacks; an operating system called ctOS runs all of San Fransisco and uses a frankly horrifying amount of personal information to affect services, products and the like and how people do and don’t receive them. Marcus was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit because the system considered him a likely suspect, ctOS creators Blume are evil, go mess with them and the various pies they have fingers in. It’s oddly reminiscent of Tony Hawk’s Underground but on a larger scale and with a lot more murder. What keeps the story going is its characters- Marcus is great and feels like a real step-up from Scowly Mctrenchcoat from the first game, and the rest of Dedsec are all likeable even when some of the dialogue doesn’t quite land. They’re not particularly outstanding but they’re all solid and they keep things moving along nicely.

Gameplay wise, things don’t work out so well. While the forced stealth sections where the game wrestles control from you if you’re spotted are gone, this time around being spotted by one enemy means every guard on the map knows where you are. This actually caused me to quit the game during the last mission- I had to sneak around an office hacking things, but if I was spotted I was immediately attacked by guards in full armour who despite not wearing any kind of mask could take several shotgun blasts to the face from close range and not even flinch, then gun me down in seconds. Poor alert states, mediocre stealth and enemies who don’t die when you shoot them in the face, not a good start. I thought we were past this shit, why do people keep making stealth games where none enemy spotting you makes everyone alerted? It’s not a fair challenge. The game generally plays the same as the first one; you go somewhere, shoot a whole load of people, hack something and leave. The game has rare moments where you do something more novel like a bit where you remote control this universe’s version of Kitt from Knight Rider but they’re few and far between, and most of the time it’s weak stealth followed by gunfights, which get increasingly harder as the game goes on because enemies start wearing armour and Marcus has no such option. Hacking is slightly more involved but not by much. The two I noticed most often were junction boxes that can be used to knock people out have four hacking options when you only need two- lure in and knock out and  thatcars can be remote controlled or just made to drive forward as a distraction with one button press. Almost everything else just requires a single button press like the first game- laptops, cameras, traffic lights etc. New additions this time around are a hovering drone and that little camera car from Rainbow Six Siege that you use to either hack into junction boxes or hack digital keys from people or laptops to open doors. I cannot stress how wearisome this gets after the first several times you do it- you arrive at a location, all the doors are locked so you send in the Siegemobile to hunt for a key, I t happens in practically every mission. The shooting itself is fine, nothing special, thought it also gets repetitive.

Overall Watch Dogs is two steps forward, one back. The new characters, presentation and story are a big step-up from the last game, and it should be commended for having a cast with pivotal roles for women, trans people and people of colour- more games need to get that shit sorted out and it’s nice to see a big triple-A developer do it when they’d normally consider black people and women a risk for some weird reason that will never be understandable. Unfortunately the mediocre, repetitive gameplay does hold it back, to the point where the cutscenes are actually more enjoyable the missions they bookend. It’s definitely an improvement though, and people should support the game anyway because we live in a world where if this game doesn’t sell well Ubisoft will consider black main characters a failure.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Silent Hill 2 is Fifteen Years Old

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Also it’s my favourite videogame of all time. I know, I know, Silent Hill 2 is everyone on the internet’s favourite game, but it’s been mine since I first played it back when I was way too young for it, but still knew there was something about it that was special. Well I’m older now, and conveniently the game turns fifteen years old this very day in my country of origin so I’m going to talk about why I love it so much and also why it’s so good and why it stands head and shoulders above every other horror game ever released. Firstly though if you’re one of the handful of people who hasn’t played the game, a brief primer before I get into massive spoiler territory: you are James Sunderland, your dead wife sends you a letter telling you to go meet her in your shared “special place” in Silent Hill. The town turns out to be all foggy and full of monsters, everyone you meet is very off in various ways and your wife is nowhere to be found, instead you encounter a stripper who looks the same but with a different name and personality. Spooky. Anyway, buckle up because we’re driving right into the heart of Spoilertown.

The game’s horror is entirely character focused, and as such is based on relatable issues that actual people can and do face. While on the surface it’s a game about a town full of monsters, the monsters bare no real importance on the story at large, with the exception of one whom I’ll address shortly. Silent Hill is a sentient location that dwells on the pain and guilt of those who visit and conjur a personalised nightmare, and whereas other games in he series have monsters and situations based on warped understanding and reaction largely due to it being based on the memories of children, the source material here is a lot more adult and grounded. James Sunderland is guilt-ridden and sexually repressed due to his wife being bed-ridden and requiring care and patience from him due to horrible mood-swings and a terminal illness. Eddie killed a man for mocking him; bullying and psychological torment drove him to actions he can barely justify and he will and does attack anyone who disrupts that justification. Angela was sexually and psycholocially abused by her parents, and suffers from a bleak self-persecution complex. Maria is a fragile individual created for the sole purpose of tormenting James, whilst also feeling genuine attraction to him- she has an at best fractured sense of identity and self-confidence. The only character in the game unaffected by the town is Laura- a child; she bares a grudge against James, and is sad at Mary’s passing, as they were friends, but maintains composure for the whole story.

Each character in the game suffers from relatable problems, mental states and other afflictions that form the crux of the story and drama- there is nothing supernatural about their individual plights. The one exception to this is the now incredibly over-exposed Pyramid Head, a being born from James’ desire for punishment- both boss fights with him end when he says so, and there is literally no way to kill him. It’s a horror story anyone who’s ever had any kind of personal or psychological problem can relate to; even if you discount each individual character’s issues the game still touches heavily on the subjects of loneliness, depression, guilt, and failure.

Silent Hills 1, 3 and Homecomong centre around an evil cult that practice human sacrifice. Silent Hill 4 centres on a serial killer returning from the dead to continue his spree, and Downpour focused on…rain. Ahem. 3 and 4 also relied heavily on imagery that was in turns unnerving and really freaky depending on the situation. Silent Hill 2 revolves around a personal story and its characters. It’s also genuinely subtle; no jump scares, no gore, even the dark “alternate world” just makes the world seem poorly maintained and run-down as opposed to a separate, supernatural locale. What’s most unique is the driving point of the story, the main character’s behaviour and the context provided by the ending. See, James killed his wife Mary. Depending on the ending you got he either did it because he couldn’t bare to see her suffer or because he was sick of looking after her, but regardless of your actions in the game James killed her and that will never change, a lot like actually killing someone in real life. James went to Silent Hill to kill himself, but repressed that fact as soon as he arrived. The letter from and picture of Mary in your inventory vanish over time, and James exhibits troubling behaviour best explained by the situation he’s in. To begin with he pushes on through the town because he wants to be reunited with his wife. As it goes on and he goes to further and further lengths and through increasingly unreasonable environments and tasks it’s all down to a simple fact: James has literally nothing to live for. He came here to die, he may as well be dead already, in fact if he were it would make literally no difference to his story. This all ties into the game’s psychological horror- compare say, that dog corridor from the original Resident Evil and the corridor that leads to the final boss in SH2. What’s more likely to stick with you; running down a hallway and a dog jumps through the window, or walking down a hallway while a woman shouts at James (a name many people have, myself included) to leave here alone because she’s ugly and doesn’t deserve flowers, then breaks down crying and begs him to come back and tell her she isn’t going to die. When it’s not leaning into its more emotionally manipulative traits it relies on the “nothing is scarier” trope and a fantastic Akira Yamaoka soundtrack- you wander through a threatening location surrounded by horrible sounds that may or may not be in your mind, with the thought that something is clearly very wrong but the character you control doesn’t notice or doesn’t care because he has nothing to live for. It’s bleak, but not in an obvious way.

There’s really nothing like Silent Hill 2. It stands out as true psychological horror game with a focus on subtlety and horror real people face, wrapped up in a hauntingly beautiful game that also has decent  puzzles, and very rarely takes control away from the player, so you have to make all these uncomfortable discoveries yourself with no one else to blame. A game with this subject matter would most likely be a “walking simulator” or otherwise low-interactive experience. Team Silent made a survival horror game with tank controls (a popular mould at the time) that focused on the idea of loneliness, self-loathing, depression and loss. Sadly the series never reached this high point again, instead enjoying two more great games before plummeting, rising slightly then having its best hope in years cancelled. Silent Hill 2 also suffered the indignity of a mangled “HD remaster” based on unfinished code with new voice actors, no fog and a string of glitches. But nothing Konami does can take this game away- as special then as it is, my favourite ever game and a truly outstanding experience. Happy Birthday, Silent Hill 2.

Also there’s an ending where it turns out a dog was behind it all, and it barks along to a jaunty ending credits theme. Just because, I guess.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

DLC review: Dark Souls 3 Ashes of Ariandel

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Dark Souls 3 is the only good game in the series, and Bloodborne’s solitary piece of DLC was excellent, so I was actually looking forward to this. Unfortunately it’s a disappointment; it’s one uniformly snowy though admittedly quite large area, the enemies are boring apart from angry emaciated chicks (as in baby chickens), one boss is a man with three wolves then a big wolf and the other boss is an absolute piss-take. Fight her once, then her mate jumps in, then you fight her again afterwards. Three health bars, three forms, you have the one health bar. I haven’t beaten it yet and at this point I frankly don’t care. This DLC is poor, don’t buy it. Instead I’m going to be talking about the PS4 port of Resident Evil 4, which I recently finished instead of playing this dreck.

If you’ve never played Resi 4 it’s one of the greatest games ever made, arguably joint best with Red Dead Redemption. It pioneered the whole action horror over-the-shoulder-camera shooting and its combat was tense and overwhelming whilst making you feel like you’re capable of being in control of the situation if you can handle it. Enemies are just aggressive enough while generally having inferior weapons but numbers on their side, the escort quest that takes up much of the game is actually really well handled and the game mixes camp theatrics and genuine horror in a way that shouldn’t work but really does. Anyway the PS4 version’s biggest selling point is sharper graphics and what appears to be constant sixty frames. It’s certainly a smooth frame rate anyway, it looks bloody lush. I’m not sure which version they used as a base but they’ve sharpened everything up nicely. Besides that it’s the PS3/360 version- all the extra content of the PS2 version, all of it unlocked by playing the game like how games used to work before DLC. This is the definitive version of the game, and I say that as someone who has owned and completed the GameCube, PS2 and PS3 versions of the game. If you’ve played the game before and you’re wondering whether or not to buy this one then yes, you should. Resi  4 is better than the vast majority of games out there and you absolutely should own it on PS4 if you have one, and I assume the Xbone version is too, but I haven’t played that one. Unless they’ve done something terrible to it it’ll be worth it.

If you’ve never experienced Resi 4, possibly because you’re one of these new-fangled young people, buy it now. It works as a horror game, it works as an action game, it has no filler, no weak moments and it kicks the shit out of the vast majority of other games you can buy for current gen. It’s certainly a lot better than Dark Souls 3 and its DLC, and it’s a high point that the series hasn’t even come close to matching. It’s so good they released Resi 5 and 6 on current gen first so they could save the best for last.

Um-hm. In conclusion Ashes of Ariandel is bad, Resident Evil 4 is good and Libya is a land of contrast, thank you.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18