Thoughts on: The Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Announcement

Ubisoft officially announced their new Assassin’s Creed in a live online presentation. I watched it, I thought things about it, here they are for your eyes to look at. LET’S DO THIS THING.

As had been previously leaked/reported/speculated, it’s set in Victorian London. 1868 to be precise. You are Jacob Frye, a “Born and raised Assassin” who along with his twin sister Evie are launching a street gang-backed class war against the rich, ruling classes of London. From the off, it looked very similar to AC Unity (which was set during the French Revolution), and Jacob doesn’t seem to have much character other than “Violent psychopath, but he’s wearing a top hat so I guess he’s kind of posh too”. They haven’t shown much off though, so that could change. I’m interested to see where his sister comes into it, and at one point during the gameplay demo they were shown to have an apparently Indian ally, so that could be an interesting angle, if played right. That was about it for story. Not much to go on, but I’m already a bit unsure about it. The Assassins up to this point have all been shown to have an at least somewhat noble side to them, but Jacob appears to just be a thug, besides his ultimate goal, which is admittedly a good one. Also it’d be nice to have another game where you get to play as the Templars: “Rogue” has made me firmly on their side. But I’ll reserve full judgement until the game comes out.

As for his equipment, he’s packing a mean looking Kukri, brass knuckles, a revolver and a gauntlet including a hidden blade and a rope launcher for quick ascension and zip lines. Concept also shows that the cane shown in the picture above hides a sword. The gameplay demo showed that horse-drawn carriages can be used as vehicles and can apparently be parkoured over, and that the hand-to-hand combat system is a lot faster, more fluid and rather brutal. Though it seems to have the AC Unity problem of eschewing quick finishers in favour of whaling on opponents. At one point Jacob used a throwing knife to drop a load of suspended barrels onto an enemy, and the trailer and concept art briefly showed the inclusion of “Sherlock Holmes”-esque fighting pits, which I for one will be spending a lot of time in. Oh, and this might just be me, but “The Blighters” and “Bloody Nora” are stupid names for a gang and a gang leader respectively. “The Blighters” I can let slide during the time period, to be fair. But for those unfamiliar with British English, “Bloody Nora” is an exclamation used to express shock or surprise something, it’s not some tough name for a gang leader. The demo ends with a multi-bodied gang brawl in the streets, and Jacob proclaiming that everyone there now works for him and his sister.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic. I still really love Assassin’s Creed, I love a Victorian London setting and I’m sure this will turn out fine, but I’m a little put off by how the characters could turn out, especially after Arno. It also seems like they missed an opportunity to have an Indian main character. “The Order 1886″ made good use of real life badass Rani of Jhansi, but instead Syndicate opts to continue the series’ recent trend of having white protagonists. Still, I’m looking forward to it.

It releases on October 23rd, despite the footage shown being pre-alpha. So hopefully it won’t be in the same state AC Unity was at launch. Hope springs eternal.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Bloodborne Review


I’ve been looking forward to this one. I was one of the people fortunate to play the alpha, and I’ve been highly anticipating the game ever since. Though I haven’t finished it (due to my save data mysteriously vanishing) I love Dark Souls, and I’m a big fan of a Victorian London setting. Does Bloodborne meet Hidetaka Miyazaki’s usual standard? Does its new direction pay off? Read on, good Hunter. Seek my review to transcend the hunt and learn the true nature of Yharnam. Note that while I’ll be avoiding specific twists and character names, I will be spoiling certain aspects of the game’s plot. If you haven’t played the game yet, I highly recommend you do so before reading this review, or at least get past Rom.

For those who don’t know, Dark Souls is a punishing but fair dark fantasy RPG known for its imaginative world, detailed, realistic combat and a story left up to the player to discover. Bloodborne carries on that tradition but with a few new angles. You are a Hunter, traversing the streets of the Victorian London-esque Yharnam; a city struck by a terrible plague that slowly turns humans into large, quadrupedal Werewolves. It’s said to be the location of advanced medical skills that can cure a wide variety of ills, but as you arrive the nightly hunt begins, in which “normal” people lock themselves indoors while heavily armed Hunters trawl the streets murdering beasts. Item descriptions paint the hunters as some creepy, twisted cult of sadists. There’s also a rather malevolent looking church with an unknown amount of influence on the town, and some unfathomable goings on in the nearby woods and mysterious town of Byrgenwerth. Every environment is dripping with atmosphere- coffins line the streets of the town, chained shut. Haunting, awful crying can be heard from some houses while laughter and merriment from others. It maintains Dark Souls’ air of dread and daunting tension; that around every corner there can and easily will be an enemy you can’t beat. It’s actually more horror focused than DS. Whereas that game felt like you were traversing a once noble land, tainted by a darkness accidentally succumbed to, nothing feels noble about this place. It’s bleak, grimy and dangerous, and it takes on a whole new level of horror around halfway through, when it becomes a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror story. What starts as a game about Werewolves, infected villagers and a “Resident Evil 4″ sort of vibe quickly evolves to include horrific, alien monstrosities barely comprehensible by human minds. It ties into a gameplay mechanic where you gain “Insight” from various actions. Higher insight makes certain enemies do more damage, but makes your Hunter privy to horrible secrets, such as seeing massive creatures hanging to the sides of buildings that normal people can’t see. The cosmic elements are really well handled, as you gradually unravel the story and discover the full extent of the beings involved and what they’ve done to the town and its people. Much like Dark Souls the story is hidden throughout the world, mainly in item descriptions, notes and in the more frequent, though still short, cutscenes. It encourages you to make your own narrative to an extent, at least for your created character.

The gameplay side of things is equally as impressive. Much like Dark Souls the combat has a realistic weight to it, though with more fantastical elements. It still takes a second or so (depending on what you’re using) to swing your weapon, it bounces off walls and other obstacles, and rolling does take time. However, you can now step-dash when locked on to enemies, your character has no armour to slow them down, and all the weapons in the game are “Trick Weapons”- implements with two different forms that can be switched between at the touch of a button, even mid-combo. A cane that turns into a whip, a sword that can be placed into a huge stone block to form a hammer, that sort of thing. You also have a gun, though it does little damage and is instead used to parry enemies and open them up for massively-damaging counter attacks. The most interesting and useful new feature is that, when damaged, you can attack any nearby enemy to regain health. These attributes come together to give the game a decidedly more action game feel. You have no shield, so it’s a viable tactic to roll in, slash away at whatever you’re fighting, and should you take a hit or two, keep hacking away to regain your health. You’re always on the offensive, even when you’re step-dashing away to adjust to new situations. This is particularly evident when you fight bosses, where a mixture of offense and defense rule the day, especially the ones with multiple, increasingly tough forms. The game is decidely tough but fair, and for the most part deaths are attributed entirely to mistakes made by the player. This wasn’t always the case however, as I found out with the final boss, who suddenly developed the ability to perfectly track me with his attacks. For the most part it makes you rise to increasingly tough challenges throughout the game.

Any problems? Well it’s been patched at the time of writing but initially load times were long and made you stare at the game’s logo. As I said it’s changed now, but it’s worth mentioning. The only real problem I had is that the game makes you choose whether you’re playing offline or online at the main menu, yet if you pick offline you still cannot pause the game. It makes no sense, and it would be very helpful to be able to pause the game.

“Bloodborne” is fantastic. It takes the combat of Dark Souls and gives it a more action-focused slant, its locations, plot and bosses all come together to make a daunting, creepy, unnerving tale, and it feels more focused than its predecessors. This and The Last of Us Remastered are the best reason to get a PS4, and in terms of true PS4 exclusives this is the best by far. It’s similar enough to Dark Souls but stands on its own merits as an amazing game worthy of anyone’s time, as long as you’re willing to work at it. A masterpiece that deserves to be remembered and re-played for years to come.

Also, it keeps up Miyazaki’s tradition of sticking “Berserk” references into games, and I’m all for that.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Wolfenstein The Old Blood Review

“Wolfenstein The Old Blood” is a stand-alone prequel to last year’s excellent “The New Order”, which combined shooting, stealth and surprisingly good character development under a bleak what if story where the Nazis rule the world. It’s also a somewhat frustrating example of trying to have your cake and eat it, but I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s a decent length, eight chapter story split into two equal halves: “Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves” and “The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs”. It’s more gameplay focused, and takes the game back to be more in line with “Return to Castle Wolfenstein”, for better and for worse. But is it worth your time?

It’s 1946. Nazi hating brick shithouse B.J Blazkowicz and his Welsh mate Agent One go undercover in Castle Wolfenstein, trying to find a folder containing the location of The New Order villain General Deathshead. They’re captured, B.J is stripped of his shirt for some reason, he handily locates the world’s most useful pipe, and begins his escape. The first thing you notice is that the technology used by the Nazis is back in the same state as The New Order’s prologue- dogs that are half organic, half machine, Super Soldaten with conventional weapons and, unique to this game, plugged into a generator rather than using an in-built battery, and all of the 1946 weapons. The stand-out weapon here is the pipe, which is used to climb walls, jimmy things open and execute Nazis in rather brutal fashion. There’s also a new super shotgun, a really useful semi-auto rifle and a grenade pistol, though ammo for that is naturally sparse. The second thing you notice is that story segments are kept to a minimum; every cutscene is in first person apart from the very first and very last, and the game very rarely breaks up the action. You’re on the move constantly, and you’re almost constantly fighting or sneaking past enemies. Fortunately the shooting and stealth are as good as they were in TNO- weapons are responsible and all useful, most guns can be dual-wielded, and the 1946 weapons are all just as fun to use as the 1960 ones. The game starts with a lot of stealth, but quickly gives you a load of guns and ammo for if you just want to mow down every Nazi you see. The first half of the game is excellent- Castle Wolfenstein and its underground warren of caves and tombs make for a nice, “Indiana Jones”-type feel. Rudi Jager makes for a cool villain; a well-spoken man-mountain who is dearly devoted to his half-robot canines, and regularly feeds human prisoners to them. This section also shows you where B.J’s “Count to four…” coping mechanism comes from, and ends on a cool siege in an occupied town.

So, part 1’s a winner. Unfortunately, Part 2 lets the side down, for reasons that could well be considered SPOILERS, so reader discretion is advised.

Basically, zombies show up, and a giant monster. Part 2 starts with B.J attempting to steal the aforementioned folder while undercover as a waiter, but then an earthquake happens that turns everyone who dies into a zombie. The game then turns into a slog as you wade through hordes of the undead on your way to Helga Von Schabbs’ dig site. It starts quite interestingly, and has some decent character moments in it courtesy of a young Jewish girl desperately searching for her girlfriend, but for the most part it’s quite boring really. Now, the problem with the zombies isn’t that it feels at odd with Wolfenstein. Far from it, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was full of the buggers. No, the problem is that it’s at odds with The New Order, which eschewed the supernatural entirely. That game showed that the Nazis’ rise to power was due to General Deathshead’s futuristic technology (stolen from an ancient Jewish society) and super concrete, having dumped the more unwieldy, less reliable supernatural stuff. That worked much better in my opinion; the massive robot dogs, super soliders and gigantic robot controlling London. This might have worked if it wasn’t canon, but B.J goes through all this only for it to be NEVER mentioned in The New Order. Granted Helga’s plan completely fails, but you’d think someone would bring this up. This just feels like a step too far really, and its what I was referring to earlier when I said the game is trying to have its cake and eat it. It wants to have Return to Castle Wolfenstein zombies and an ill-fated archaeological dig, but also insists this be a direct prequel. It is helped by the fact that it doesn’t work and so is presumably completely scrapped by the Reich, but ever since I beat the game earlier today it’s been nagging at me that it just doesn’t feel right. Gameplay wise it feels a lot more simple and streamlined, with stealth and multi-layered fights with different enemy types being swapped out for gunning down loads of zombies, some of which have guns. It’s still worth a look, as part of a larger game, but it’s definitely a let down after part one.

Overall, “The Old Blood” is a success. An excellent first half and a shaky second half combine to make a good time, with meaty, challenging gun fights, involving stealth and interesting story parts sprinkled throughout a more gameplay-focused experience. If you enjoyed The New Order, definitely check this out. If you didn’t, you’re better off playing that first; its gameplay is slightly less intense, and takes you through things more thoroughly. It’s a shame about the second half, but on the whole, it’s a good time, and it’s always nice to step back into the shoes of B.J Blazkowicz.

Speaking of which, I like that his narration and dialogue is largely less broken, grim and defeated than it is in The New Order, what with this being a prequel. It’s a nice touch.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Thoughts on… This Whole Konami Debacle

Oh that Konami, what are they like eh? They’ve a history of questionable decisions and practices (Jim Sterling has some excellent videos detailing their incompetence) but recently seem to have imploded in a supernova of stupidity. Now this won’t be anything constructive or helpful, but it will hopefully partly entertaining to see me have a break down over the current state of my two most anticipated games. If you’re into that sort of thing. Strong language from here on.

There was a time when I considered Konami to be my favourite game company. They were responsible for Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill- my two favourite franchises. Fuck, Silent Hill 2 was and still is my favourite game of all time and Konami were responsible, or at least partly. I didn’t really know how involved, but they were in there somewhere. Then of course they scrapped Team Silent and brought about Silent Hill’s descent into fucking mediocrity and somehow managed to fuck up the HD re-release of Silent Hill 2. Then recently it was announced that Hideo Kojima had left Konami. Had he left because he can’t deal with the sheer amount of fuckwits and horrible decisions at the company, or was he pushed? Either way, the company let him go, which was a fucking terrible idea. They then stated that they will continue to make Metal Gear games, despite the fact Kojima won’t be involved, and MGSV is going to complete the story loop. Say what you like about the shitty business practices of the likes of EA, at least they know what they’re doing. Konami seem to have some bizarre aversion to money and success- they let Kojima go/get rid of him, but apparently want his series to continue. It doesn’t make sense.

Even worse is what they did more recently regarding Silent Hills, Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s revival of the series, as shown off by the excellent “P.T”. As of 29/04/2015 P.T is no longer available for download (unless you’ve downloaded it before) and Silent Hills is cancelled. In one fell swoop Konami has removed on of the best horror games I’ve ever played, one that still haunts me to this day and made me genuinely excited for Silent Hill for the first time in years. It’s also torpedoed the game P.T was demonstrating. Somehow, against all odds, Konami fucked it up royally. Its still up in the air as to whether or not Kojima could develop the game under a different name, or maybe even buy the rights should Konami go under, as it appears they might. Hopefully he can salvage something from all this, but for me the damage is done. Konami and I are finished; save for MGSV they’re not having any more of my money, and I have no interest in buying their games. Unless Silent Hills somehow comes out, I’m done with both Konami and Silent Hill as a series. It could have been something special, but Konami has doomed Silent Hill to continuing mediocrity until it either fades into obscurity, is rebooted, or becomes a bloated, action-heavy mess like Resident Evil.

Well done Konami, you fucked it up. You deserve the irreparable damage this will do to your company.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Order 1886 Review


Well this is a tricky one. Announced a good while ago now, “The Order” promised to be an enjoyable alternate history third person shooter with an interesting Victorian London setting. Then, right near the game’s release date an apparently full playthrough was leaked totaling five hours of play time. It didn’t help that one of the devs was interviewed and basically said “It’s not five hours long, but who cares if it’s five hours long?”, and also that the game seemed to be heavy on cutscenes and quick time events. I was intrigued by the game but elected to give it a miss for a while, partly due to its price to game time ratio and partly due to the developers’ irritating dedication to making the game imitate films, complete with “The Evil Within”-style letterboxing and limiting interactivity. I finally picked up a copy and completed it, and can now answer questions such as “Is it any good?”, “Is the game about a rich white man with a moustache murdering poor people?” and indeed “Can I really say anything positive about this game when I’ve so harshly criticised the works of David Cage?”. I’ll answer that one now; yes I can, because David Cage is a hack. But anyway; wax your moustaches, pour a glass of absinthe and load up your thermite rifle because it’s time for the review.

The set-up is an interesting one. The titular Order is a group of Knights dating back to King Arthur’s time, with many of its members having lived for hundreds of years, fighting a seemingly endless war against “Half-breed” Werewolves and kept alive by “Blackwater” from the holy grail, which slows their ageing and heals all their wounds. You are the third Sir Galahad, dealing with a rebel uprising whilst breaking away from The Order to investigate a potentially disastrous plot, with bleak consequences for all involved. What little story there is here is well presented, but it often feels rushed and poorly fleshed-out. Long-time friendships and relationships between characters are briefly mentioned but form the basis for drastic and dramatic plot points, and the game often makes big leaps in time and location. Granted they don’t need to show everything, but it’s quite a short game, and it could do with taking its time more, and spend some time developing its world. It does attempt to establish a world by including sections in which you walk around and pick up documents and photos, but the collectibles have no deeper meaning, and nothing of interest happens during these scenes. As it stands the story has some good solid broad strokes but little more, and it all ends on a direct sequel hook. It has some genuinely interesting set-up, but given the nature some of the places it ends up going (SPOILERS) (by the end Galahad has been kicked out of The Order and is working with the rebels to bring down a vampire, for one) (SPOILERS END), it would have been far preferable to have this origin story fleshed out, slowed down and given a lot more depth. It’s frustrating to say the least. Fortunately it’s a lot less class war-y than I imagined, and doesn’t have nearly as many instances of rich white men murdering poor upstarts as I was worried it did. It’s actually quite balanced, which is good for a story set in Victorian England.

Gameplay wise it will either draw you in or drive you up the wall. As I said earlier the developer was very keen to imitate films, and as a result the game is heavy on cutscenes, quick time events and walking around soaking in the environment, as well as third person shooting segments and two forced stealth sections. Credit where it’s due, the game’s transitions between cutscene and gameplay are seamless. It’s more interactive than I expected, whether it be through QTEs, shoot-outs or just moving forward, and it juxtaposes well with the cutscenes, which for their part aren’t too long or drawn out. QTEs are more extensively implemented than in say, “Beyond Two Souls”, in which it just felt like a video playing that occasionally paused to make you press an arbitrary button just to show that you’re still awake. On the more direct side of the gameplay are shootouts, which while not as prevalent as they should be are a good time all the same. The shooting is tight and responsive, there are two interesting and unique weapons in the form of a gun that shoots arc lightning and a gun that fires a cloud of thermite that’s then lit with a projectile flair, and you also have what is essentially Dead Eye from “Red Dead Redemption”, where time stops and you pump a load of bullets into frozen enemies. It’s never really explained, and its best saved for the shotgun enemies, who are a complete pain in the arse. On the downside are the stealth sections and parts involving Werewolves. The former are fortunately over quickly, but are made frustrating due to their fail-state; be seen by a guard and they INSTANTLY draw their gun and shoot Galahad in the face while yelling “Hey! HEY!” as if they’re, y’know, taking measures to deal with the problem that don’t involve murdering me? The game is really not built for stealth, but as I said, these sections are over quickly. More disappointing than frustrating are the werewolf fights, which take two forms. Regular Lycans are fought in arenas filled with tall shelves used as cover, as they dash at Galahad from behind corners. Unfortunately, after attacking Galahad they run back to the exact same spot every time unless you pursue them- they run out, you shoot them/dodge them or they hit you, then they run back to the same spot and repeat. It’s a shame because they look and sound rather creepy, and as The Order’s main enemy you’d think they’d pose more of a threat. The other ones fought are Elder Lycans; you fight two in the game hand-to-hand, in which you can move from side to side, perform light and heavy attacks and dodge via QTEs. These fights fair much better, in terms of control, spectacle and the werewolves themselves- the elders are creepy, almost mangy looking; tall, covered in loose fur and able to speak English in an intense growl. It’s a great design for a werewolf, and I hope to see it more in a potential sequel.

Overall, “The Order 1886″ is an interesting experience. People have criticised its length and lack of interactivity, and I wouldn’t argue there; some will be really put off by those two things. It’s a short game and there are a lot of QTEs, cutscenes and walking around not shooting things. I certainly wouldn’t pay full price for it, and I recommend you don’t either. But I paid £20 for it, and for my money it was a beautiful looking, well-written and acted game that seamlessly moved between cutscenes and gameplay with solid gunplay and an interesting story, albeit one that really could have done with more depth. I look forward to a sequel that can build upon what worked here, because this game had real potential, a lot of which it wasted. I did get to knife fight two werewolves though, so that’s something.

Personally the letterboxing didn’t annoy me here, but I’m not sure why. It just seemed to fit the game better than it did in “The Evil Within”, where it just seemed unnecessary.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Game of Thrones Episode 3 – “The Sword in the Darkness” review

Hot on the heels of “Tales from the Borderlands”‘ second episode is Game of Thrones’ third- hopefully signaling a return to a more regular schedule.

After the genuinely surprising revelation that Rodrick survived the Red Wedding, albeit in really bad shape, you’re in the unenviable position of having to take a more active role in what happens to house Forrester. His parts of the episode mainly deal with how he responds to increased hostilities from house Whitehill, whether that be submission or taking the “Wolf Among Us” route of needlessly punching people (which I suprisingly didn’t go for this time). I actually managed to do some role playing in this episode- changing up my own less reasonable, more psychotic playstyle for one that reflects the characters and what they would do, so bravo to the episode for that. The episode feels fragmented, however- Asher has the brief Cold Opening to establish something that pays off in the last few minutes and sets up the next episode, and Mira only has a brief appearance, though important. The Purple Wedding anticlimactically comes and goes in a heartbeat- Mira and Sera conveniently kept off at the side away from all the actors who don’t appear in the game (I’m not really picking fault there- I imagine they’re very expensive). This does lead to a pretty hectic, intense situation if you’ve made the wrong decisions though, and as I realised how much trouble I was in as everything began to spectacularly fall apart. Gared’s time at the wall has a decent action scene and some interesting character development, but if the preview of the next episode is anything to go on, the choices you make there don’t seem to matter much.

Choices wise there’s not a whole lot of meat here, much like episode two of Borderlands. Mira’s situation was resolved quite quickly and surprisingly easily despite my cock-ups, a choice Asher has to make didn’t lead to any long-lasting negative consequences, and Gared’s were pretty much pointless. The events taking place at Ironrath continue to be a bleak, challenging slog through desperately trying to keep your ahead above water- it’s the glue that holds all the other scenes together.

The one major problem I encountered was a massive sound glitch. Most of the music in the episode was absent, as were most of the sound effects- weapons clashing, footsteps and the like were absent, while voices were not, fortunately. This wasn’t too big a problem when I was playing as Mira and Rodrick- where sword fights weren’t likely to break out, but was at its most distracting playing as Asher- an encounter with Drogon (one of Daenerys’ Dragons) was made incredibly underwhelming due to said Dragon being completely silent. It didn’t ruin the episode, but it did spoil it somewhat.

Overall, a solid episode- some good moments, some interesting character development and the events taking place at Ironrath continue to be a depressing slog, but in a good way. It’s keeping the tone consistent while adding in its own mysteries and ramping up the tension, and I’m looking forward to the next episode.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Tales From the Borderlands Episode 2- “Atlas Mugged” review

I’d briefly talk about how long this took to come out and how myself and many other people were hotly anticipating it, but the game itself lampshaded it so I’m just going to get on with the review instead.

Episode 1 of “Tales from the Borderlands” was a pleasant surprise. Of the two Telltale series starting at the same time I was more interested in Game of Thrones, but wanted to give this a look anyway. It was genuinely funny with great characters in an adventure story that did some genuinely impressive work creating a character-focused story from the continuity of a first person shooter.

Picking up exactly where Episode 1 left off, Rhys is now being followed around by a hologram of Borderlands 2 main villain Handsome Jack, Fiona has to do something incredibly squicky that’d be genuinely horrible if it wasn’t funny, and the group is soon off to find a vault, using the artifact they found down in the hidden vault. It’s not as strong as an episode as the series’ fantastic intro, but it maintains a high standard. Fiona and Sasha get some nice development during some down-time while Rhys and Vaughn take over comedic duties during another run-in with Vasquez, backed up by Handsome Jack, who is on top form. I’m not too familiar with Jack because I never completed Borderlands 2, but playing this made me want to go back and get it finished- he’s a great character, and having him in the background as a meddler unseen and unheard by everyone but Rhys adds a new layer to the writing. Parts of it do feel like they’re just there to keep the story moving forward, but it does take its time to slow down and show off the action side of things, with the stand-outs being an opening scene involving a Rakk Hive and a foot chase. The game maintains a solid use of quick time events, often in the form of having to swiftly highlight and click something in order to interact with it, as opposed to just pressing a face button.

Gameplay wise it’s maintaining the high standard, but unfortunately the choices are some of the weakest I’ve seen in a Telltale game. Apart from one right at the end none of the choices carried much weight, nor did they take any real thought to make. Maybe it’s because the universe is more comical and less severe than say “The Walking Dead”‘s, but even so.

Overall though, it’s a good episode. It’s nice to see Telltale trying different things, and they’re showing off their comedy, adventure chops. It’s keeping me invested and I’m looking forward to whenever the next episode is out. Which I can’t say about a certain other episodic game…

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Resident Evil Revelations 2 Episode 3 Review


Remember back in the Episode 1 review when I was uncharacteristically a bit optimistic about this mini series? What a fool I was. After Episode 2 took what little promise Episode 1 showed and pushed it off a cliff, Episode 3 Izuna Drops it into the ground.

Claire and Moira are attempting to track down “Neil”, who is apparently their boss, but I had literally no idea who he was. They spend their time getting swarmed by enemies while attempting to find fake pieces of liver to put in a statue of Prometheus because symbolism 101, I suppose. Though having said that I’m not sure what it’s supposed to symbolise, so touche, Capcpom. Their story is bland and boring, with an apparently emotional reveal tripping over itself and falling flat on its face (it’s almost funny), they have a crap boss fight with a not-quite-Tyrant, and overall their section suffers from the same problem as last week- limited ammo with too much combat. Also I’d like to take a minute to address one of this game’s biggest problems- status effects that cover the screen. Certain attacks can rend you “bleeding”, which makes obnoxious blood splatters alternately appear on screen like a child attempting to remake a Hammer Horror film, and the other, more annoying one is when you get hit by slime, and it covers most of the screen for several seconds. You can wipe it off with a certain craftable item, but you have to go into the menu to use it. Also there is literally no excuse for throwing a load of shit on the screen- it’s bloody infuriating and every time it happens I want to put my hand through my television.

Barry fares SLIGHTLY better. You finally find out why Moira doesn’t like firearms (though its slightly spoiled by Barry’s penchant for being a massive ham), his chemistry with Natalia (who is still not annoying, surprisingly) continues to be pretty decent, all told. However, part of his section involves lugging a big power crate between conveyor belts as pointless busy work, and he suffers from the exact same combat issues as Claire. Also, the invisible bugs from last episode make a brief return, and they are still unwelcome. His section has less story than Claire’s but they’re roughly the same quality, and he mercifully doesn’t have a big dumb boss fight. However while writing this I’ve just remembered that both characters end up slogging through a sewer.

Bad move, Capcpom.

Overall, this episode continues the bad trend started by the last one. It doesn’t have the awful comic relief, but it’s still a boring slog with bad combat that doesn’t understand that limiting ammo doesn’t automatically make a horror game good. Episode 4 is not looking like a last minute reprieve.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review


So Reuben recently wrote a piece on why “Hotline Miami” (the original one) is a great game that you should definitely check out (it’s just below this review, so you could go read it now if you wanted. It’s okay, I’ll wait.), and I agree. I reviewed the original PC version and then did a thoughts piece on the PS3/Vita port, and I love that game to bits. Its tough but fair gameplay combined with an ace synth score and brutal violence all wrapped up in pixel graphics and an ambiguous plot made it one of the most interesting and fun games I’ve reviewed. Then the sequel was announced. I checked out footage and new information when I could, but didn’t actively seek it out, mainly because I knew I’d be getting it anyway. It’s finally arrived, I’ve beaten it, and I am here to tell you people whether I thought it was any good. Just a word of warning first: I’m going to be avoiding specific spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about the game’s plot without going into some detail about its themes and tone. If you want to go into the game without knowing anything (which I recommend) I’d leave the review until after. At least the plot part of it. Gameplay part should be a-okay.

After Jacket murdered nearly the entire Russian mob in the first game, he’s been caught and put on trial, his story sweeping the nation and turning him into a “Natural Born Killers”-style pop culture icon. A film is being made about his exploits (that misinterprets them to a pretty slimy degree), a gang of copycats emulates his now classic “Burst into a building in an animal mask and horribly murder everyone inside” formula and a journalist with an honest-to-buggery handlebar moustache is writing a book about what happened. You play as a number of different characters with often varying playstyles; for example The copycat “fans” have a mask each that give them different skills, the writer knocks people out and unloads any guns he picks up, and sections involving a spec-ops soldier in occupied Hawaii have you switching between a firearm and a knife on the fly, picking up extra ammo from strategically based crates. The game jumps back and forth between each character often, and for the most part they fit in with the tone and story. The only one that feels out of place is Evan, the writer. His sections just feel odd given that he’s a writer purely out to do research and yet is willing and capable when it comes to bludgeoning his way through a club full of armed Mafiya goons. As for the plot itself, it’s easily one of the most bleak, nihilistic game stories I’ve ever seen. I can’t really go into why, but I will say that it takes the ideas of futility, hopelessness and pointlessness connected to violence established in the first game and runs with it. The way it ends (both before the credits and the main ending after the first few names) are gut-wrenching in just how empty and hopeless it was. It’s not for the feint of heart, and it does not pull a single punch. I’m not saying any of this in a negative way, far from it- I loved the story, and I love that it takes risks I’ve not seen before. It doesn’t give a damn what you or anyone thinks of it, but if you’re willing to hang in there, it’s rewarding in a very dark way.

Gameplay wise is where problems start to occur. Those familiar with the first game will find it easier to handle, but regardless, Dennaton have really beefed up the difficulty here. Rooms are now bigger and harder to scope out, with blind corners and a lot more windows. The game mixes melee focused enemies with big guys who can only be killed with guns, then throw in a couple of new enemy types that can only be killed with melee weapons, all the while having two gun-wielding goons patrolling the area. Also dogs. The dogs are back and even worse than before. There are three main problems that I ran into. First of all, the levels are bigger and so require more careful planning, but a lot of aspects of the gameplay are random. What weapons enemies are carrying, whether they’ll be close together and therefore easier to kill, whether they’ll completely ignore you or spin on the spot and cap you in the head from a mile away, often seems down to chance, particularly the latter two. You can clear out an entire floor but then not see a shotgunner hiding in a big pot plant, or a dog blending into a dark background will suddenly speed up and tear your throat out. It’s frustrating, particularly when combined with the game sometimes not reacting fast enough. Several times I pressed the attack button but the game didn’t register it so I died instead. It’s the “Dark Souls” problem- the combat is so excellent that any issues, no matter how small, are magnified. Secondly, parts of the game are just barely do-able. I wouldn’t call the game too hard, because I did finish it, but there were definitely sections where the difficulty made the game genuinely stop being fun to play. A few sections in particular where you play as (SPOILERS) Richter from the first game, whom Jacket stormed a police station to get to (SPOILERS END) were seemingly set out in the way that a bonus challenge level might be done in another game. It was frustrating and ground the game to a halt, at least for a while. Finally there are glitches. At one point one of the fans had thick black lines over her sprite like a cage, another mission had all the walls, doors and windows missing (I had to switch over to the PS4 version to beat it), and several times guards got stuck in doorways and couldn’t be killed, though they could kill me. However, I’m going to let this slide because it was made by two people and it’s just come out. I didn’t get any game-breakers, either.

On the more positive side of things, the shooting feels more satisfying and is better structured around the lock-on, although said lock-on still has trouble prioritising targets, and sometimes made me miss the right targets anyway. When the game isn’t being unfair the extra challenge is genuinely rewarding, and, much like the first game, the sense of style in the graphics, delivery and thoroughly excellent soundtrack make it all worth it. The game also automatically cross-saves between the PS3/4/Vita versions, which is a nice touch.

Overall, “Wrong Number” is excellent. It’s bigger, better and braver than the first game- more characters, more gore, better soundtrack, more levels, and a depressing bold story about violence, humanity and sheer inevitable futility. Misguided steps in difficulty don’t spoil a ferocious, rewarding experiece; it takes risks and they pay off.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Reuben and I will be doing a video later on discussing the game in-depth, he’ll give his thoughts on it, I’ll talk about the Vita version, and hopefully by then I’ll have played around with the upcoming level editor.

Why Hotline Miami is Great!

hotlineart

“Do you like hurting other people?” such a simple question, but for gamers (mostly) all over the world it carries special weight. It might seem easy to say that you’re not a sociopath, but when you think about the number of photorealistic effigies you’ve gunned down, bludgeoned, immolated, pulped or just generally murderised in the course of your most recent gaming experience it weighs heavily on the mind. It’s also the opening and possibly most famous line from Hotline Miami, a game which came out in 2012 and proceeded to be the weirdest, most intense game about killing mobsters in 1980’s Florida to come out that year. And since tomorrow will see the release of a sequel, and because I’ll be at work all day and won’t have a chance to play it, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes this game so enthralling, and why it’s one of the best games I’ve never completed.

Firstly, there’s the presentation. The world of Hotline Miami is pulsing, vibrant shades of neon yellow and day-glo pink doused in buckets of pixelated blood. It’s a perfect example of a game not wanting to be limited by graphical fidelity, the world is rendered in simple low res retro style, but each level drips personality and every character model moves fluidly and smoothly. It manages to do more with 16-bits than most big game releases can manage with millions. It crafts a very particular world, seen through the eyes of a very particular protagonist. Jacket, as he’s known, is not a well man, his mind a jittery, uncertain, hallucinogenic mess. And right from the start, in the very first conversation our silent protagonist has with Richard, Rasmus and Don Juan (three shadowy animal masked individuals that appear at the start of each act to offer cryptic (mis)information), you’re shown the fractured, uncertain mental state of this clearly very damaged and damaging individual. Layered on top of the visual style is a haunting soundtrack of synths and old school beats, that drive you forward into the mouth of madness. You could very well believe that they’re the sounds of a lunatic mind as much as a musical score.

The violence, arguably Hotline’s most famous element, is pitch perfect too. All of the identikit enemies that populate each stage die in one hit from a weapon, leaving their mangles corpse at your feet as you step over them and move onto the next victim. It makes you feel powerful, and at the same time slightly nauseated to bludgeon one unsuspecting goon to death and then wait patiently around the corner for his friend to investigate the suspicious neck snapping sound before vigorously introducing his face to the nearest space of wall. But, just to stop you from feeling too powerful, you die just as easily as the enemies, which mean the slightest mistake means death. The area can be reset immediately by pressing ‘R’ however which means that you’re never too far from starting over, and this is why Hotline has such compelling gameplay. Each time you die you get a little better, and a little closer to your goal. Of course what that goal is remains a mystery.

Now it’s at this point that I must confess something. I still haven’t completed Hotline Miami. Terrible reflexes and worse hand eye co-ordination mean that I just can’t complete the final few stages. It’s exactly the kind of game I love, and exactly the kind that I’m worst at. But even so, what I’ve since looked up about  the ending to the game tells me I’m missing out. The story is just as perplexing and incomprehensible as you might expect, but deliberately so, in a way that leaves things open to endless interpretation and speculation. A very apt comparison would be the ending of No More Heroes, which is also a  bloodsoaked murderfest starring an unbalanced antihero. And Jacket is a true antihero, a character with potentially noble intentions who’s quickly derailed by the creeping insanity and the endless messages left on his voicemail. No gruff monologues, no visible self pity, only the endless driving force of his own obsessive need and the offer of employment from the mysterious phone voice who might just be in his head. And head stomping, he does a lot of that too.

There’s many reasons that I love Hotline Miami, and hopefully I’ll love the sequel for just as many if not more. One day I’ll write something about this game when it’s not late at night and I’m not tired, and maybe even have time to edit some video to illustrate my point. But for now, I’ll leave you waiting for the review that’ll follow shortly, which I definitely will write I promise James. And Shadow of Mordor. And some general articles. And video too, definitely. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check my voicemail…