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…

Thoughts on: MGSV The Phantom Pain has a release date, plus some other interesting news

Well, it’s finally arrived: my most wanted game of 2015 has a release date. MGSV The Phantom Pain is launching September 1st 2015, so I have a while to wait, on a hill smoking a Phantom Cigar. Frankly I wasn’t sure if it was going to launch this year or be pushed back to next, so the news was a pleasant surprise. The special edition has also been announced:


(All rights belong to Konami and Koji Pro. I am not claiming ownership of the game, nor am I trying to sell you one of these)

Clearly the stand out is the half-scale replica of Big Boss’ bionic arm, which has been shown gripping a Playstation controller, so it does appear to be dexterous to a degree. In England it’ll set you back £99.99, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s worth it. I obviously think it is, but why should you trust my opinion? We’ve most likely never met. You should buy it though, it looks awesome.

As for the interesting news, Kojima made two statements at the time of the release date announcement:

1) That this will be his last Metal Gear Solid game.
We’ve heard this before, but part of me thinks he might be serious this time. Given the much darker, climactic tone of The Phantom Pain and its status as both the finale of the “Big Boss” part of the series and the last rung on the ladder before “Metal Gear”, it’d make sense for him to end it here. His magnum opus will be complete, spanning several decades of game time and nearly twenty seven years of real time. Makes sense for him to finish it, and move on to saving “Silent Hill” (which I’m completely hyped for also). Having said that, he’s mentioned looking for someone to remake the original “Metal Gear Solid” with his shiny new FOX engine, so whether he completely hands over the reigns or stays on in some role remains to be seen.

2) That Big Boss won’t say much, and the story will unfold through actions and other characters’ dialogue.
This seemed a strange choice due to Kojima getting Kiefer Sutherland on board, but it makes sense for the game. Big Boss is older and wiser here, and he’s gone through an incredibly traumatic series of events, so it makes sense if he’s not particularly talkative. He didn’t have a whole lot to say in Ground Zeroes, either, and that suited the tone well. He’s a man of few words this time around, and we’ll have to wait and see if it pays off. Presumably Miller and Ocelot will pick up the slack.

Right then. Until the game’s release (and my review of it) I won’t be posting any more about it, unless something really drastic or important is publicly announced, because I’ll be avoiding any potential leaks. Until then, I’ll be reviewing a whole host of other games and playing a lot of Ground Zeroes to get myself ready.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Resident Evil Revelations 2 Episode 2 Review

Oh REvelations 2. In the words of Michael Madsen in Sin City: “We could’ve worked something out but you’ve blown that.” Despite Claire’s bland showing in the last episode I genuinely enjoyed Barry’s section, Raid Mode was going fine, and overall I was willing to give it a chance. Well that’s gone out the window for the most part with episode 2. Let’s get this over with.

Claire’s section picks up with a group of comic relief characters having a good time with their current mutant-killing predicament (as you do) and throwing the word “balls” around because Capcom doesn’t know how to write effective comic relief. There’s a dude who got a two-handed drill out of nowhere purely so he can use it against you in a boss fight you can see coming from a mile away, every new character introduced falls completely flat, and worst of all the episode has the utter gall to rip-off the cabin scene from RE4, right down to the angsty teenager and hispanic guy. Presumably they had to go through with it after Shinji Mikami nearly ripped it off for “The Evil Within” but then didn’t at the last minute. Speaking of TEW, I’ve worked out the game’s biggest problem, and its one they both share. Clearly someone has told Capcom that a key component of survival horror is limited ammo, but not that in conjunction with this you should avoid situations where you have to fight big groups of enemies in order to progress. It’s not as broken and infuriating as TEW, but it’s still a problem- one section in particular took me several attempts because the game threw a new mini-boss at me while sending in waves of other enemies of varying speeds and strengths. Have one or the other- Capcom used to do it really well, but now REvelations 2 appears to be going the way of RE6. Just, you know, with fewer explosions and less mind-numbing stupidity. Story wise it’s showing slightly more promise, with a new virus revealed that activates when the person its infected succumbs to fear, but it’s spread too thin, and it’s become clear that the game isn’t designed to be episodic, but is just a regular game cut up into chunks and sold off for £5 a pop.

Barry’s section is better, but manages to be more annoying than it should thanks to invisible, one-hit kill enemies and that same drill-wielding boss coming back, an event which I saw coming back when I still playing as Claire. The episode ends on a dumb cliffhanger, but it’s still better than the first episode’s, which is completely ignored here. For reviewing purposes I bought the season pass so I’ll be back here with episode 3 next week, but I’m not looking forward to it.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Resident Evil Revelations 2 Episode 1 review


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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

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

Thoughts on- Dead Rising 3

NOTE THAT THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

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