Dead Space 3 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Demo Impressions

Two new demos hit the Playstation store recently, and I checked them both out: “Dead Space 3” is the Lost Planet-esque new installment in the on-going series and “Metal Gear Rising: Stupid Subtitle” (I refuse to use the word “Revengeance” more than is absolutely necessary on principle) is a spin off of a series very dear to me; “Metal Gear Solid”. I’ve been largely glossing over new Dead Space 3 information simply because I knew I’d end up getting the game anyway, so it didn’t really matter and I wanted to play the game blind. “Dead Space” was good, but a little sparse compared to the second game, though I enjoyed both. The one problem I’ve had with the games is that they’re just not scary. Despite several claims to the contrary, the games don’t do horror very well- the gore is over the top, the jump scares don’t work and overall I find it works better as an action game with a horror theme.

Anyway, the demo. It’s relatively short and basically follows Isaac Clarke waking up upside down in a space ship wreckage and traversing the new, snowy environment to meet up with his new soldier partner and be faced with a huge necromorph boss, where the demo ends. The first of the two biggest new additions the demo showcases are the weapon crafting system (largely relegated to a room accessed from the main menu; the crafting bench found in the campaign has few resources) which is an interesting novelty but largely doesn’t feel essential, although there’s hope that over the course of the full game it will come into its own and give you more of an edge; I expect it will be most useful at higher difficulties. The second is the cover-based combat against human enemies, which feels pointless, out of place and pretty needless really. The game works best when facing the various undead-alien hybrid monstrosities and blowing bits off them with a high-powered plasma tool originally designed for heavy-duty maintenance work, not shooting humans until they collapse, un-dismembered. There’s also a new dodge-roll move I used once in each direction to see how it looked, and a space suit with fur on it. That’s about it. There’s not a lot I can say- it’s a short demo and the game is largely very similar to the second one, which isn’t a bad thing as long as the new gameplay features are better realised and implemented in the full game, along with the setting, which in the demo is largely underwhelming. Gameplay-wise everything from “Dead Space 2” is still to the same quality, it’s just a shame about the current state of the new additions.

“Metal Gear Solid” as a series focused on stealth gameplay and utterly bizarre characters and plot points. Series leading man “Solid Snake” (based on Kurt Russel in “Escape from New York”) was awesome, and along with his clone-father Big Boss (the protagonist of the prequel “Metal Gear Solid 3”) made Metal Gear Solids 1-4 great games that still hold up today. The second game replaced Snake early on for far less-likable character “Raiden”, though mercifully Snake did return. As for “Metal Gear Rising”, it started off strong. The demo involves whiny-bitch-turned-cyborg-ninja Raiden flying a drone into a war torn country while his tech team handle the exposition, cutting his way through cyborg soldiers and the bipedal, mooing Metal Gears from “Metal Gear Solid 4”. The story shown in the cutscenes has the “Metal Gear Solid” feel, and was genuinely intriguing- Raiden’s bad-ass ninja thing is quite believable and the attempts to move him away from the character seen in “Metal Gear Solid 2” have been largely successful. The gameplay shows promising, but is marred by several things. Firstly, the camera is a real pain. It often lags behind when you move and doesn’t point at what you want it to. It’s not completely broken, but it is irritating. Next up is the lock-on. Apparently there is a manual lock-on, but the button it’s supposedly assigned to was the sprint button for me, so I’m not sure what was happening there. There needs to be a button that just handles lock-on and nothing else, and a dodge button would really not go amiss in a game like this. Make it so you double-tap the sprint button or something, that’d work fine. Worst of all is the parry system, which is awful. To parry you move the left stick forward and press the attack button. Genius. To stop moving forward and attacking, you press the movement stick forward and press the attack button. I got it to work two or three times at random while fighting the demo’s boring boss character, and all other times had to resort to just jumping around instead. It’s quite remarkable that said boss is boring, considering that it’s a mechanical wolf with a genius-intellect A.I and a long tail with a chainsaw on the end. The fight itself is dull and repetitive.

As for the good, the combat system is decent. There are two main attack buttons- a light attack and a heavy attack, and a button that activates “Blade Mode”- basically, as long as you have the bar filled up enough time slows down and the right analogue stick controls a bar that you move around the enemy- choosing where Raiden will cut them. It’s a fun feature- making precision cuts all over an enemy; slicing them to pieces and activating the finishing move where Raiden rips out their glowing, blue, robotic spine and crushes it in his hand, killing them and restoring all of your health. This is awesome- I have no problems with it.

Overall, both demos showcase good and bad. The new additions in “Dead Space 3” are largely underwhelming, as is the new setting, but it still has the solid gameplay of the first two games. “Metal Gear Rising” has a decent plot and fun combat, but a lot of irritations that need to be ironed out before its release.

By James Lambert

Hitman Absolution Review

Absolution Cover

Delayed I know, but I’ve finally got around to reviewing the most recent Hitman game. Firstly, I love the “Hitman” series. “Blood Money” is one of my favorite games of all time, and I hold it up as a pinnacle of the stealth genre. I had reservations about the new game since its announcement, and they were never fully alleviated as more and more details were released. As I let on in the “Best and Worst games of 2012” post, I was, and am still not happy with “Hitman Absolution”. What was once a fun, rewarding, satisfying series of games involving hiding in plain sight and picking your own methods in increasingly large levels has become a linear, deeply frustrating game that has promise, but squanders it consistently with almost every new feature that’s been added.

Firstly, the story: the previous games all had plots that were relegated largely to between mission cutscenes, and while they were interesting the gameplay wasn’t really affected if you chose to skip them and get on with all the killing. “Absolution” implements a more personal story in which world’s best assassin Agent 47 kills his old handler but then suddenly feels guilty and decides to fulfill her dying wish of protecting a little girl (created to be an assassin just as he was) from a group of angry, Southern American cliches and Powers Boothe. Firstly, now 47’s on the run from what is apparently the world’s greatest contract agency he would surely be even more cautious and secretive, not take on a little girl, enlist the help of a contact who lives in a school bus and stop wearing gloves. The more personal take on a story isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it isn’t handled very well. The characters are all forgettable and don’t particularly add anything to the game, and save for a couple of cool levels the story ends up being a reason for 47 to go from location to location without the previous excuse of having a variety of targets offered to him. 47’s newly personal stake in events now causes him to be captured, spotted and attacked now and then, as opposed to him being the ghost-like urban legend he was in the previous games.

On the gameplay side, almost all of the new or changed features are badly implemented, chief among them being the new disguise system and the instinct system. In previous games, as long as you didn’t do anything too suspicious (the guards were largely forgiving when it came to running around) you were fine, and disguises were a genuinely useful part of the excellent “hide in plain sight” stealth mechanics. I mean, there were some odd moments where you can do things like dress up as a Chinese crime boss with a ponytail and then bluff your way past his men (somehow), but it was all part of the charm. “Absolution” wanted to be different though, and so in this game everyone wearing the same outfit as you will see through your disguise and become suspicious in mere seconds, even if you’re calmly walking around in an area you’re allowed in. This can be countered with the “Instinct” system; basically detective vision from the “Arkham” games- it highlights enemies, gives hints and disguises 47 near suspicious NPCs through the medium of him lowering his head and rubbing his neck. Genius- why didn’t anyone else think of that? This disguising aspect relies on a rapidly decreasing instinct bar and you have to activate it very quickly when at close proximity. This new disguise system is deeply, deeply frustrating, and the instinct system is useful, but by no means essential. Irritatingly instinct replaces the map of previous games- a map that was an essential item for planning your route and keeping tabs on guards and essential NPCs, as well as civilians. The game also has a “Point shooting” system- basically the “Mark and Execute” system from “Splinter Cell Conviction”. A map wouldn’t be as useful as before what with the oppressive, linear, much smaller levels, but it would still be better than the instinct system, which gives you a view of the immediate few rooms. Speaking of unnecessary changes: the previous save system (save anywhere a number of times dependent on difficulty) has been replaced with limited, spread-apart, hard to find checkpoints that increase your chance of having your cover blown while you search for them. The map being removed and the save system being changed are bizarre choices that, along with the disguise system make the game feel unfair and often unbalanced- it’s a definite step backwards for the series.

There’s really not much to compliment in the game. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s not completely terrible, and that when you ignore all the bad changes it can be fun for a while until they bring it crashing back to earth, throw the leash back on and force you down a specific path with a few choices thrown in for the illusion that it’s like the old “Hitman” games. If you’re going for the “Silent Assassin” rank you’ll be restarting a lot, given how easy it is to be spotted. Which brings me to the point system- an ever present and largely unwelcome counter in the corner of the screen that scores your game and deducts points for being spotted (even by people who have only spotted you because you killed them from the front rather than behind), which can be incredibly easily if the game is feeling unfair. Elsewhere there’s the new “Contracts” mode which has you let loose in a small part of a level to mark up to three targets and have other people play the map- succeeding by killing the targets in the same way with the same weapon and outfit. It’s a nice addition, but doesn’t really add anything to the experience as a whole. The game looks nice, and David Bateson’s voice acting is as good as ever, it’s just a shame the story doesn’t match his work.

“Hitman Absolution” isn’t a terrible stealth game. The oppressive disguise system and linear missions are irritating but don’t break the game; it’s highly possible to make it through missions stealthily with practice. It is, however a bad Hitman game. It’s removed what made the other games so unique and generally excellent and replaced it with elements ripped from other, popular games and a forgettable story. Although not completely devoid of enjoyment, this is huge step back for the series, and not the next-gen Hitman game I had been hoping for since first completing Hitman Blood Money several years ago.

Oh, and one last thing: the “Saints”- the assassins in PVC Nun outfits that featured in a jaw-droppingly stupid trailer for the game are just as terrible as I thought they’d be. Even without the stupid, cheesy catch phrases, they’re a genuinely offensive attempt at sex appeal in a game that doesn’t need any, and are a complete contradiction to the established M.O of the I.C.A. Why does the agency that hires 47- an assassin so incredible it’s doubted by many that he even exists- also use brash, RPG-toting women in PVC nun outfits? Food for thought.

By James Lambert

2012: The five best, and the five worst.

Well, better late than never I suppose. Let’s get on with it then.

The Best:

1. The Walking Dead

This was a genuinely hard choice. My most anticipated game of last year was “Max Payne 3”, and while it lived up to the hype to be one hell of a game, nothing got a reaction from me quite like “The Walking Dead”. There are technical problems, and certain outcomes are unavoidable, but the story and decisions in the game are superb, and the emotional investment the game draws out of you is remarkable. Every character in the game is interesting and feels needed, the relationship between the protagonist Lee and his charge Clementine (both genuinely likable) is genuinely touching, and the adventure game style focuses on advancing the story rather than absurd, illogical puzzles. It’s an incredible experience, and the best game released in 2012.

2. Spec Ops The Line

“Spec Ops: The Line” was a genuine, pleasant surprise when I got my hands on it last year. When it was first announced it looked like another generic war shooter where macho white men with the mental state of five year olds stomp all over brown people in the name of freedom, which couldn’t be further from the truth. What starts as a simple third person shooter quickly evolves into a gut-wrenching emotional slog through hell on earth that brings up horrific events and forces the player to move through them, no matter how dark. The story was incredible and genuinely affecting, and while the gameplay can be generic, it serves the story nicely. It was close between this and “The Walking Dead”, but while the latter edged this one out, “Spec Ops The Line” is an awesome experience, and it is essential you check it out. I mean, it’s depressing, harrowing and dark, but that’s the whole point.

3. Max Payne 3

It pains me- PAINS ME to put “Max Payne 3” here in third place. I was looking forward to this game more than any other that year, and indeed for several other years. It lived up to the hype, and was an awesome game, but from a more objective standpoint, the two games above were more worthy of first place. Anyway, “Max Payne 3”- the new setting of Sao Paulo, Brazil creates a great contrast from the first two games, provided a good amount of variety within its locations and gave the game a nice, “Man on Fire” feel (as did the plot, actually), the character of Max was darker than ever and the gameplay was intense, tight and incredibly fun. For fans of the series it was a wonderful culmination of everything leading up to it, and for those new to the games it was an excellent third person shooter. It’s a great game worth playing, but lacks the emotional impact of the first two games on this list, save for the incredible opening cutscene. Look it up.

4. Silent Hill Downpour

This one surprised me. I’m a huge “Silent Hill” fan and although I knew this game was going to suck (as do all the new Silent Hill games I’ve played), I gave it a chance anyway only to find something wonderful- it doesn’t suck. Far from it. The game has a good sense of exploration and has a number of genuinely interesting side quests, a great atmosphere, decent combat system and actually tries to do its own thing rather than wallow in the series’ past tropes (Unlike homecoming, which was terrible). It’s the best Silent Hill game since the Playstation 2 days, and is a pretty good horror game on its own merits. Like “Max Payne 3” it’s one to check out, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the previous games.

5. Assassin’s Creed III

Carrying on from the largely pointless “Brotherhood” and “Revelations” installments, “Assassin’s Creed III” changed the setting, time period and protagonist for the better- giving the new character a set of moves more useful for the environment, which is well realised and adds to the “Fight for Freedom” nature of the new character. The new tree climbing system was good fun, and the tweaks to the combat breathed new life into it. While not perfect (it had pretty much every problem the second game had; mainly the stealth system is very poorly implemented) but overall, it was a fun game and a good addition to the series.

The Worst:

1. I am Alive

An XBLM and PSN game tucked away early in the year safe from anyone remembering it, “I am alive” attempted to give a more grounded take on the idea of a post-apocalypse scenario, but tripped over the very first hurdle and smashed its head in. Bad game design, irritating sound and environments, logic painfully obviously being sacrificed to supplement an ineffectual atmosphere and a generally rushed feeling all around make “I am alive” the worst game I played last year. I genuinely cannot think of a single redeeming feature in the game. Not one. Give it a miss.

2. Lollipop Chainsaw

Suda 51’s latest installment smacked of a largely accepted “auteur” falling into a routine. Violent, overly quirky and obviously trying to be different, the story of vacuous, deeply irritating zombie hunting cheerleader Juliet ended up being the worst thing Suda has made by far. Repetitive, boring gameplay, irritating, unfunny dialogue and characters that are either boring, irritating or offensive were the order of the day. The abhorrent mini-games and wasted bosses didn’t help either. This is Suda being lazy- having built up his reputation with the incredible “Killer 7” and the awesome “No More Heroes”, he’s fallen into a groove. A groove that happens to be a rain-filled ditch with a dead raccoon in it.

3. Resident Evil 6:

Remember when “Resident Evil” was a survival horror franchise? Well the latest installment added in broken quick time events, vehicle sections and an over-reliance on action gameplay. The new story was built on a virus-based cover-up that is completely needless, and in order to have various points where the different playable characters meet up feels very lazy and repetitive. Moving through a spectrum of infuriating, boring, depressing (if you like the series at least- when you reflect on what it’s become) and just plain irritating, “Resident Evil 6” was a slog of repetitive, old-hat ideas strung together with a plot that was stupid even by Capcom standards. This is a series that really needs to end.

4: Hitman Absolution

As I’ll elaborate on in my review (which will be on here soon), “Hitman Absolution” is by no means a terrible game, but it is a deeply frustrating one, owing to new additions and changes that do nothing but hinder the experience. The more personal story isn’t entirely unwelcome, but the linear levels, instinct system and the fact that your cover can be blown in mere seconds for no apparent reason most certainly are. In shifting to a story focus, the sprawling, non-linear levels and immense freedom of the previous games is sacrificed for a more oppressive, reduced experience. Not a terrible game, but a step in the wrong direction for the series.

5. Dishonored/Far Cry 3

Sure to be controversial choices, I’m giving fifth worse to both games (I couldn’t choose between them) not because they were particularly bad games (although there were far better ones last year), but because of the hype surrounding them- hype they failed to live up to. “Dishonored” was supposed to be an incredible hybrid of Hitman, Thief and Deus Ex and ended up being a linear stealth game with a weak story and most choices in the game being easily ignored in favour of the much simpler “stab everyone in the neck” option, and “Far Cry 3” was supposed to have a deeply troubling, gripping “Spec Ops The Line”-esque story involving a normal man becoming a depraved, maniacal killer in order to save friends that would no longer even recognise him, but ended up being a decent if a tad boring shooter with a weak, rushed plot that was deeply disappointing. Are the games bad? No, and certainly no way near as bad as the other games on this list, but they should have been so much better.

By James Lambert