Until Dawn Review

Anyone familiar with my work (or who knows me personally) will most likely be aware of my intense, unyielding hatred for David Cage and his assorted works. A man desperate to usher in a new age of videogames by making interactive films that fall apart under the weight of his own incompetence as a story teller, with horrible depictions of women, ideas stolen wholesale from other intellectual properties, and a tendency to throw inexplicable martial arts fights into things for no real reason. Why am I using space in a review of Until Dawn to slag off David Cage? Well, Until Dawn feels like it was made by an alternate universe David Cage, who understands the difference between homage and rip-off, and who knows how to make a well-paced story that isn’t cinematic at the expense of interactivity. Basically, it’s this sort of game done right.

One year after a group of friends enact a prank that leads to two of them being killed, the dead girls’ brother invites the group up to the family lodge where they died, as a sort of group therapy through reunion type deal. It’s the classic horror set-up; a group of teenagers alone in a lodge in the mountains/woods cut-off from the outside world. Each one fits a basic character archetype: the final girl, the nerd, the dumb blonde (not my words), the jock who’s gone up a snowy mountain in a letterman jacket and tracky bottoms- they’re recognisable characters, but not based on anyone in particular. The story follows horror lore rather closely, but mixes up locations and threats; moving from a lodge in the snowy woods to a dilapidated mine and a sanitarium all without breaking flow. It’s due in part to characters being split up, with each of them working towards a goal -whether it be to help the group or simply escape where they are- and the game just lets them get on with it. The game is done in a slightly episodic fashion, with “Previously on” segments and Peter Stormare appearing after each chapter as a therapist asking you to basically tell him what you’re scared of. The latter pays off and is generally well done. The former is quite poorly done; the game doesn’t have any break between episodes, and will instead play a cutscene then smash cut straight to “PREVIOUSLY ON UNTIL DAWN”, making the whole thing seem unnecessary. The game’s ending also seems quite sudden and convenient, but overall the story is well-paced, gripping and shows a good understanding of horror, compared to a lot of modern “Survival Horror” games. Also, though graphics aren’t something I normally mention, it’s worth pointing out that these are quite possibly the best graphics I’ve seen in a videogame. While its palette isn’t as expansive as something by Naughty Dog, the character animations and details in the game are excellent, and the facial capture in the game is genuinely amazing. Pausing the game brings up the face of whomever you’re playing as, and they all look fantastic. Clearly Supermassive didn’t mess about with all that Sony money.

Gameplay wise, it basically plays like Heavy Rain. You walk around, interact with environments, make choices and engage in quick time events. The most noteworthy parts are those last two. The choices never feel forced; they’re a mixture of dialogue and character interactions that matter partly because everyone’s a teenager, and partly because they may come back to bite you later (more on that shortly). The other choices usually come up during action or chase scenes. You’re running after someone in the woods- do you take the safe route down the path? Or do you risk sliding down a rocky hill? Do you barricade the door, or keep running and try to get a headstart? There are also times when not acting at all is the best way forward. Not that the game makes it obvious. The choices work so well because of what the game calls “The Butterfly Effect” (named for the actual theory); a dedicated list off the pause menu shows the choices you made, and the effects of that choice, expanding as the choice continues to have consequences as the story goes on. It’s nice that as well as the natural results shown in-game, it also actively details exactly what’s happened and why, which you can completely ignore if you wish. It works a lot better than Telltale’s vague “X will remember that” message. Also literally every character in the game can die, or none, or any number in between. Certain characters can only die after you reach a certain point in the story, but said story can end with everyone in the main cast having suffered a horrible, gory death. It adds a real tension to all the action scenes when you realise that one wrong move can get a character killed, and there are no do-overs. You have one save file and cannot go back until after you clear the game; someone dies, they’re dead for the whole run time. Unfortunately this can be made slightly irritating due to one particular QTE where you have to keep the controller completely still. Most of the time it’s not a big problem (it’s actually done quite well), but a slight twitch can result in failure, which happened to me right at the end of the game when I wasn’t expecting it and a character I really wanted to live got murdered. Still, there’s always my next playthrough.

My only other gripe is a slight spoiler, so skip down to the wrap-up if you want to go into the story completely blind, which I do recommend. The supernatural enemies that are hinted at for a while then finally show up late in the game are really generic. Considering what they are (an established supernatural creature), they could have looked so much more interesting than they do. But it’s just a small thing, they’re still genuinely threatening.

Overall “Until Dawn” is excellent. It handles choices better than any other game in this genre, the graphics are arguably the best ever seen in a game (certainly a console game), and it puts David Cage’s weak-sauce attempts at an interactive film game to shame; using horror lore as a jumping-off point for an intense story that grips from start to finish. It’s the PS4’s joint-best exclusive with Bloodborne, and a must-see if you own the console. Having said that, it’s quite short, so maybe wait for a price drop.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Batman Arkham Knight Review


I have something of an affinity with the “Batman: Arkham” series. Arkham City was the first game I reviewed, way back when I got to go to its launch event; it essentially set this whole “Reviewingfloor” thing into motion. Arkham Asylum was fantastic- it really shook things up in terms of superhero games; its detail, gameplay and care for the source material made it the new benchmark for the genre. Arkham City took that theme and ran with it, although it sacrificed a more tightly-focused story for an open world. I even quite like Arkham Origins, even though it’s pretty much just the same thing, with some incredibly convenient story hand-waves. So now we come to Arkham Knight, the last game in the series, and a game already infamous for a broken PC port that recalled by publishers Warner Brothers. It’s the first game in the series on current-gen consoles, its open world now encompasses all of Gotham City, and it was shown to be a fair bit darker and more grim than before. It piqued my interest, certainly, but how did it turn out? Is it a fitting end to the trilogy? Some light spoilers ahead.

After the genuinely surprising death of The Joker at the end of “…City”, Scarecrow has stepped in to fill the main villain role. He’s battered and maimed after his run in with Killer Croc in “…Asylum”, he’s got a somber new voice courtesy of John Noble, and he’s threatening to fill the entire city with fear toxin. In reality this is a slightly ham-fisted way to make sure there aren’t any civilians in the game, but I’ll let it slide. I’ve got bigger fish to fry anyway. Throughout the story the key theme is Batman finally failing to save Gotham; Scarecrow hammers this home every time he addresses you over loud speakers that apparently reach every square inch of the city. Helping him in this is the titular Arkham Knight, a mysterious new villain with training, a private army of mercenaries and intimate knowledge of Batman and his various weaknesses. Who is the Arkham Knight? Well, without giving it away directly; he’s exactly who you think he is. Yes, him. Yes the reveal is disappointing. It makes sense it’s him but it’s spoiled by how much they hyped him up as a whole new character when in actual fact he’s, well he’s him. Ahem. Navigated that minefield like a pro. He’s also responsible for one of the absolute worst gameplay elements, but I’ll get to that. Rounding out the cast is the Joker, or at least a persistent hallucination of him born from exposure to Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Now you might think that bringing the Joker back is cheating really; a case of having their cake and eating it, and honestly it kind of is. Particularly when the game (SLIGHTLY HEAVIER SPOILERS) makes the ending confrontation all about him (SPOILERS END). Having said that, I can’t deny they use him well. Having him be a figment of Batman’s imagination means he has access to all of Bruce’s private knowledge, and can use it against him. He’s also genuinely funny, though in a rather dark way that suits the game’s tone. So at least two of the three villains are well done, and for the most part the plot is pretty good. It hits the bleak marks nicely, and there are times when it feels like Batman may genuinely fail, just as Scarecrow insists that he will. However, there are two key failures in the game that end up being reversed, with no real consequence. That’s where the story fell down for me, again it’s them having their cake and eating it. They want Batman to fail, but obviously Batman can’t fail because he’s Batman. It’s frustrating; they already killed The Joker, you’d think this wouldn’t be too far, especially with it being the last in the series.

Gameplay wise, it’s pretty much the same, except for new additions that just get in the way. Chief among them is the Batmobile. The Batmobile is absolutely ridiculous, and outstays its welcome after about an hour or so. No matter where he goes, no matter how unlikely it seems or how much trouble it is to take the Batmobile, Batman always finds a way to drag it along with him. They seem to have thought “Well, the Batmobile is useable for the first time, we better make the most of it”. What starts as a cool addition that adds to the whole “I’m Batman” feel quickly becomes the gameplay’s biggest weakness. The aforementioned gameplay element brought in by the Arkham Knight is having to constantly fight unmanned drone tanks. They pop up all the bloody time- you’ll be going to or from a story bit and suddenly a load of tanks will turn up, as the Arkham Knight shouts “YOU DON’T KILL PEOPLE, THAT MAKES YOU WEAK. NOW FIGHT MY UNMANNED TANKS” because that plan makes sense and doesn’t waste my time in the slightest. Elsewhere Batman has a new suit that lets him move faster, which in practical terms means you can now chain together stealth takedowns, and boss fights have been completely replaced with you and one of Batman’s mates teaming up to beat the crap out of a load of goons. It’s a step backward from the Mr Freeze boss fight, but at least you don’t have to jump out the way of charging big lads anymore. Other villains have been relegated to side missions that you have to complete in order to get the true ending (which is shit by the way), and while it’s nice to see them, the missions themselves are forgettable. The detective elements follow Arkham Origins’ lead and add synthesising voice clips of people for various uses and reviewing security footage, and these moments are a welcome addition. The combat and stealth are still really good, you don’t need me to tell you that; it’s an Arkham game. The stealth definitely seems easier though, but I don’t consider that a problem really.

Overall, this is a step backward. The story doesn’t go far enough, the ending doesn’t do the trilogy justice, and the titular Knight is a complete waste. The Batmobile spoils the gameplay every time it pops up (which is all the goddamn time), but the core gameplay of beating the shit out of criminals, jumping on them from gargoyles and doing light detective work still holds up. There’s fun to be had here, but it’s easily the weakest of the trilogy.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Thoughts on… The New Hitman game

A new Hitman game you say? With sandbox levels and a map and no dumb grindhouse story where 47 keeps being captured and NO PVC STRIPPER NUNS? Colour me intrigued. They showed a gameplay trailer at E3 and I’m here to talk about it. They also showed a pre-rendered trailer that told me absolutely sod all about the game, so I’ll skip that one.

In case you don’t know my views on Hitman Absolution, here they are in condensed form; as a stealth action game it’s not awful but it steals things from better games and has problems. As a Hitman game it’s an absolute travesty that messed everything up. “Blood Money” is one of my favourite games of all time; its large maps, excellent map, hide-in-plain sight stealth and genuine choice make it a genuine stand-out in the genre. If you’ve never played it, you’re the world’s greatest Hitman. You’re dropped into a large area with one or more people to kill, a map to find them with and a load of guns/melee weapons/improvised deaths with which to kill them. The game doesn’t signpost anything, it just tells you to go kill these people however you like. That was what was missing from Absolution, with its checkpoints and broken-up mini areas.

Anyway, this new one. So the trailer has what appears to be a much younger 47 (complete with barcode) arriving at a party (along the red carpet so people can see his face, because some bad ideas can’t be discouraged) to kill a very rich man who’s part of some shadowy organisation that act like dicks and mess things up for people (basically). A door is busted open with a crowbar, disguises are taken, pat-downs are enacted, and 47 murders the man with a fire axe. The trailer didn’t really show much off, but fortunately the Hitman wiki has some decent information, as well as some rather baffling information. Turns out that the game isn’t a prequel or reboot like I thought. Despite the fact 47 now looks like a twenty year old and has his barcode back (he sliced part of it off in the last game), it’s apparently set after Absolution. I thought we could leave that shit heap behind but apparently it’s remaining canon. It did tell me that the checkpoints are gone now, and that instinct (basically a rip-off of Batman’s detective vision) is out, being replaced with quick saves and the good old map. The overall story isn’t really all that important, which is great, Diana now talks to 47 mid-mission, which I really don’t like the sound of, and in every mission there are one-time-per-play-session extra objectives to optionally complete.

I really need to see some actual gameplay footage, but at this point I’m cautiously optimistic. Absolution was bloody awful as a Hitman game but they seem to be learning from it this time around, and if what I’ve read is true this could get the series back on track. I was always disappointed that Blood Money was an absolute masterpiece, then I had to wait six years for a new game that, rather than develop on said masterpiece decided to tunnel into the earth. I really hope this doesn’t suck. Really I don’t.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

James’ (Vault) 101(st) post: Thoughts on… Fallout 4 at E3 2015

Bethesda had a damn good showing at E3 this year. Dishonored 2 with playable Emily, eight minutes of brutal, fantastic DOOM footage and, best of all, half an hour of Fallout 4. It looks incredible, I’m here to talk about it, let’s do this thing. I’ve split it up into three main sections, and will be focusing on the game itself, not “Fallout Shelter” or the wearable Pip-Boy.

Character Creation/Pre-war
The first part of the demo shows off the pre-war introduction to the game. Turns out I was close in my predictions; you DO go into Vault 111 before the bombs go off, but you come out two hundred years later, and you aren’t the baby seen in the crib. You’re one of its parents. The couple groom themselves in a mirror and this is your character creation; you can tinker with both using dynamic sliders on every part of the face, then pick one of them to be your character. Apparently the game has around one thousand of the most popular names recorded, so that characters in the game can vocally address you by name. In the demo they settled on a generic white man named Howard.  The pre-war stuff has a genuine tension to it. Someone from Vault-Tec comes round to check your details for entry into Vault 111 (this is where you allocate your S.P.E.C.I.A.L points, of which you have a lot more than in 3 and New Vegas), then almost immediately you and your family have to run for your life through the streets to the Vault. “I love you. Both of you”, Howard says, and then the bomb hits. They refused to go into any plot details for now, but later on the showed Howard obtaining his Pip-Boy; covered in dust and fastened to the arm of a skeleton. They did say that your character is the sole survivor, so clearly something in Vault 111 goes very wrong. Speaking of the Pip-Boy, it now has 3-D models for weapons and armour, can play game cartridges (the one shown is basically Donkey Kong, but Cold War-ified), you see your character’s hand interact with it in real time, and armour is now put on limb by limb, as opposed to a whole suit. The last thing to mention here (as it won’t really fit into the other categories) is the conversation system. You can do it in third or first person and walk away from it at any time (something I’m genuinely pleased to hear), but now instead of having a list to choose from it uses the four face buttons, with a dialogue option attached to each. My main problem is dialogue options that are tied to skills; Intelligence, Speech, Strength etc. How will they factor in? Will you have to exhaust four options of dialogue before new ones pop up? It could be a nuisance.

Building/crafting
The most surprising part of the demo. They showed off the new crafting system, used to alter/make weapons, and build houses, buildings and whole settlements. Weapons can be changed in all manner of ways, to simply adding a silencer or sight (crafted from junk scattered throughout the world), to swapping out large parts of the weapon to make it into something else. Things like taking a laser pistol and turning it into a tri-beam laser rifle. Apparently there are over fifty base weapons and over seven hundred modifications you can make. I’m really looking forward to this; if they do the crafting system well it’ll add a whole new depth to the game’s combat system. As for the buildings, it also adds a frankly unprecedented level of depth. You can craft furniture, then buildings to put it in, then water pumps, a place to plant food and a power line strung together to power everything there. You can build a massive settlement and get other people to come and live there, and draw in unique merchants. It looks like you could spend the whole game just building a town, and ignoring all the story missions. If you’re so inclined.

Combat
Finally, the presentation ended with a two minute trailer in which Howard murders a whole load of wasteland creatures and humans to the song “Atom bomb baby”. Deathclaws, Yao Guai, Raiders, Supermutant Behemoths, robots; all of them and more get gunned down and hit with a sledgehammer so hard they explode. The combat looks excellent in first person, V.A.T.S looks as good as ever, and overall the combat looks as good as everything else that’s been shown.

Fallout 4 looks amazing. The character creation, the combat, the new crafting system, the graphics; everything has clearly had so much live and time poured into it. It’s clear that Bethesda want this to be as good as it possibly can be, and it certainly looks like it will pay off. They also gave a release date: November 10th.

I can’t wait.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

James’ 100th post: Thoughts on… the MGSV: The Phantom Pain E3 2015 trailer

Despite being pushed away from Konami it’s nice to see Kojima still crafting hype for his magnum opus, I must say. This is apparently the last MGSV trailer before its launch on September 1st, and obviously I had to take a look and give some thoughts on it. If you’re familiar with my work you’ll know The Phantom Pain is my most anticipated game, so it’s always good to get some fresh footage to dissect. As with the “Nuclear” trailer I’ve split it up into sections for easy digestion, because I’m nice like that.

Language
A key theme of the trailer. Skullface monologues about how as a boy he was taken by foreign soldiers and passed around various foreigners, completely losing his native tongue. References are made to the power and importance of words and language to bind a people together, and to completely destroy people by taking it from them. Clearly it will be important for Snake to be a great communicator to his soldiers, and it looks like Skullface is going to use language to his own manipulative ends.

What happened to Diamond Dogs?
The first shots of the trailer show what is apparently a/the Diamond Dogs base filled with dead bodies, shell casings and walls covered in blood. Through visual cues three stages of Snake are shown- his Ground Zeroes outfit, the “demonic” Big Boss with his horn, and Venom; Snake’s turn to the dark side, as shown by his face being covered in blood. It appears the blood-soaked face will signify the point of no return for Snake, as its shown up repeatedly in the trailers, playing a pivotal role in the “Nuclear” trailer. The bloody face also leads me to believe that this apparent tragedy in the Diamond Dogs base is the same one shown in the “Nuclear” trailer, in which Snake wanders the aftermath of a clearly explosive, devastating conflict. I’ll elaborate on what I think happens in the next section, but this is definitely a turning point. This section ends later in the trailer with Snake on his knees with his fists clenched by his sides in anguish, and staring at himself in a mirror before punching it.

Skullface
Ah yes. The big bad. So here’s what I think is going on with Skullface:
From his monologue about his language and Ocelot’s subsequent description of Skullface via narration, combined with shots of Skullface hanging out with Big Boss and interacting in a friendly manner, I believe he cons his way into Diamond Dogs. I reckon he either reaches out to them or makes himself seem irresistible and he ends up as part of their ranks. Then from a shot of him talking to Snake while the latter is hanging upside down, I believe he is responsible for the slaughter of all the Diamond Dogs soliders- he destroys the base, kills a lot of people and leaves Snake to embrace his inner demons. Or, to bring up my more bleak theory, he manipulates a lot of the Diamond Dogs soldiers onto his side, and Snake is forced to kill them. My evidence for this is the shot of Snake on his knees, clearly angry and distraught, and the shot right near the end of the “Nuclear” trailer where Snake hesitates before gunning down several men in unmarked DBUs. Either way, I think this battle/massacre is key to the plot, and Skullface is definitely involved.

The Boss
A small one, but worth mentioning. In narration someone says that he’s going to finally make The Boss’ vision of the world a reality, and there’s a shot of soldiers cheering as what looks like the A.I pod from the “Peace Walker” weapon. For those unaware it was said to basically be a robotic version of The Boss’ A.I (for more info on who she is, check out MGS3. She’s an integral catalyst for the whole series’ plot, and easily one of the best characters in any of the games), which caused Snake to reject his former mentor and finally start using the name “Big Boss”. If that IS the A.I pod and she’s back online, she could prove to be an interesting source of drama, particularly when she gets a look at what Snake becomes.

Liquid Snake
So it turns out that Eli, the boy from the previous trailers, is Liquid Snake. Well, I say that, it’s very, VERY heavily implied. Two shots stand out here; him climbing into what looks like a Metal Gear (in fact it looks like Metal Gear Rex, which is a nice touch) and chases after Big Boss before getting caught in a narrow cave mouth, and the ending of the trailer. At the end Eli is in a helicopter appearing to have some sort of psychic link with another child who looks awfully similar, while in narration Big Boss says “Les Enfants Terrible, Zero called it”. For those who don’t know, Les Enfants Terrible was the program Major Zero set up to clone Big Boss against his will, that resulted in Liquid, Solid and Soldius Snake. Who is that other child? My money’s on Solid Snake.

Supernatural elements:
What appears to be “Those who do not exist” from the Red Band trailer make an appearance,  twitching towards Snake and Quiet in a “Jacob’s Ladder” fashion before leaping out of shot. Now I thought they were called that just because they were Snake’s hallucinations, but their appearance here along with a group of people who can turn invisible and look to be wearing the same suits as “Those who do not exist” lead me to believe they may be an actual unit. It’s entirely feasible- the Cobras all had special powers, and Metal Gear Solid is no stranger to the supernatural.
There’s also a brief shot of rock spears jutting out the ground; chasing after Snake as he drives away in a jeep,and a scene in which a helicopter moves sideways, using its rotors to kill a group soldiers. The rock spears I can’t explain at present, but the helicopter strikes me as the work of that little boy who’s clearly Psycho Mantis, who shows up just after the helicopter shot. I think this will be during Snake’s escape from the hospital early on; Mantis is helping him out.

So there we have it. Another good trailer with a lot to take in, I’m really looking forward to the game, and obviously I’m going to review it. It really is unlikely I’ll do any more “thoughts on…” pieces before then, but we’ll see what happens. I can’t wait for V to finally come to in September.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Also, it was a complete dick move for Konami to stick the Koji Pro logo in the trailer without the words “Kojima Productions” in it. Bloody Konami.

Also also; this is my hundredth post on The Reviewing Floor, so that’s something worth celebrating me thinks. It was going to be a review of an old game very close to whatever I have in place of a heart, but it’s fitting to give the spot to this, the final Phantom Pain trailer. Here’s to a hundred more posts, and if you have been reading them, thank you very much. I hope I’ve given you something worth reading.

Thoughts on… the Fallout 4 Announcement Trailer

Oh Bethesda. You magnificent bastards. Just when Konami’s cancellation of P.T and general refusal to do anything decent or worthwhile was bringing me right down, “Fallout 4” gets an announcement trailer to bring me right back up again. “Fallout” has been very dear to me since I played Fallout 3 way back in 2008. I had been looking forward to this for what seems like ages, and now I’m here to discuss the trailer.

Pre-apocalypse:
The First thing that stands out; parts of the trailer are set in the time immediately prior to the nuclear war that ended the world. A dog (more on that later) searches a house done up in Fallout’s traditional 50s Americana/futuristic style, shown in the state it was in before and after the nuclear holocaust. A television broadcast voiced by series narrator Ron Perlman announces that the nukes have been launched and even manages to slip in the series’ tagline of “War… war never changes” as people in the neighbourhood scramble to a Brotherhood of Steel-manned shelter. So will we get to play as a character pre-apocalypse? My guess is probably not. I think it’s more likely that your character is the baby briefly seen being fawned over by its parents. You’ll get into the Vault shown later on but they probably won’t, and you’ll leave to explore the wasteland not long after the war. I could be wrong of course, but that’s the vibe I get. What looks like that very same couple is seen right near the vault when a nuke goes off nearby, so you could well be someone completely unrelated. Regardless, it was certainly interesting to see the world before everything went to shite, and it would be nice if it’s elaborated on in-game. However, it shouldn’t take too much focus. This is a post-apocalypse story, after all.
Weather
A small one, but worth mentioning. The trailer features two shots where it’s raining, something that never happened in 3 and New Vegas. I love the rain, I love good rain effects in games, and weather effects are welcome here. Maybe they could play around with the idea of a nuclear winter at some point. Maybe in DLC. On a practical note, will the rain cause your radiation level to increase, in line with all other water sources in previous games?

Dog
As I mentioned before, there’s a dog exploring the house shown in the trailer. Its owner appears to be the game’s protagonist, and it looks like the dog will play a pretty important role in the game, or at least be around a lot. Hopefully the dog (I keep calling it that because I’m unaware of its gender. It’s referred to as “Pal” which leads me to believe it’s male, but I can’t be sure) will be an optional companion, but there are certainly worse things than a mandatory dog friend. I’m almost certain it’s not Dogmeat from Fallout 3 (it’s a different breed, and if this game is set just after the apocalypse then it’d be nearly two hundred years before Dogmeat is alive), but it could be related to him.
Boston
The game is set in ruined Boston, albeit a lot less ruined than D.C in Fallout 3. Buildings and towns appear to be in remarkably good shape, and it seems to retain New Vegas’ feeling of “Stuff going on in towns and cities, absolute hell in the deserts surrounding them”.

Vault 111
Briefly seen through the vault door and the Vault-Tec jumpsuit the protagonist is wearing. As far as I’m aware Vault 111 hasn’t been mentioned previously, and so could be relatively peaceful like 101, or some horrific nightmare like a lot of the other Vaults turned out to be. Either way, I’m interested to see what they do with it, after New Vegas opted to have the main protagonist not be a Vault-Dweller.
Talking protagonist
Finally, the protagonist is fully voiced, although only for one line. His dog catches up to him, he lovingly pats it and says “Let’s go, Pal” just before it cuts to the title. His voice sounds quite like Troy Baker, which wouldn’t surprise me at all. In fact if they are fully voiced it’ll probably be Troy Baker for a male Wanderer and Jennifer Hale for a female one, which would suit me fine. But it begs the question; will the player character be voiced? The other main games in the series opted for text-based conversations where the other character was voiced but not you, which worked rather well. I’ve seen people concerned about the idea of a voiced protagonist but I really can’t make up my mind until I’ve seen more of it. It could go either way, really.

Well, those are the main points that stood out. Overall I’m really excited, which is rare for me. It looks bloody gorgeous, I’m intrigued to see the new engine and what they can do with next-gen, and best of all it’s a new Fallout game. I adore Fallout, and with Silent Hills tragically shot down, this has become my second most anticipated game. I’ll be writing about trailers and gameplay footage as they emerge, so watch this space.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Game of Thrones Episode 4- “Sons of Winter” review


I’ve seen multiple publications call this the best episode of the series. We shall see.

After three episodes of all the noble, decent characters getting punched in the kidneys, “Sons of Winter” finally turns the tables. Rodrik gets the help he sorely needs via a deus ex machina, Mira finally gets to grips with King’s Landing and does some mighty fine manipulation, Gared moves beyond the wall and Asher continues to murder his way to success (a man after my own heart). It’s fantastic to finally feel like I have the upper hand, even though I know that it will be fleeting (this is Game of Thrones, after all); to throw my weight around after three episodes of being ground under the heels of scumbags, in a manner somewhat similar to Telltale’s own “The Wolf Among Us”.

Story wise, this fits right in at the 4/6 spot. A lot of things have been building up to this, and although there are pay-offs, it still feels like a lot of things can and will change for the next episode. It’s a satisfying episode all told- seeing Mira manipulate people in King’s Landing and Rodrik wipe the smile off Lord Whitehill’s face was fantastic, but in a way unlike any other Telltale game I’ve played it does feel like everything will come crashing down around me soon enough. Asher’s section is the most involving gameplay-wise, and it has some good emotional moments that seem at odds with Daenerys, who shows up as an arrogant, unreasonable arsehole here. I’m not the biggest fan of Daenerys in the show, but she’s awful here. The choices in this episode don’t feel as severe or affecting as Telltale’s norm, but it was still an involving, rewarding episodes. It was nice to have the upper hand for once, and I look forward to the next episode where it all blows up in my face.

Is it the best episode in the series, as people have said? I’m going to say yes. It’s good to see the tables turn, even if it’ll all end in tears soon enough.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

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