Saints Row IV Review

“Saints Row” is a series that has become increasingly less restrained with each new release. I’ve never played the Xbox 360-exclusive original but from what I’ve seen of it it’s a rather sober affair. The second installment had a superb balance between its more serious, dark sections and its goofy ones, and these were combined with fantastic character and outfit customisation, fun and rewarding gameplay and a story that was enjoyable, investing (particularly due to the create-a-character nature of the protagonist) and just generally fun to see play out. The third game was where rather a few people lost a little faith in the series. It was still a good game, but some (myself included) thought that the sillier parts of it were encroaching on the serious aspects, to the game’s detriment. Rather than make a desperate/feeble/half-hearted attempt to re-capture what made the second game so great, Volition instead threw up their hands, yelled “Sod it!” to whoever was within ear shot and leapt off the deep end into the harrowing abyss that is comedic writing in video games, (and perhaps “Comedy games” in general, although that’s a term I’m reticent to use for myself.) so now The Third Street Saints are fighting off an alien invasion using super powers from inside The Matrix. Also, the gang’s leader is now the President of the United States. There are references, jokes and parodies galore, and any semblance of being a serious game about gangsters taking over a city is gone.

After stopping a terrorist attack (and tying up a loose end from “Saints Row The Third” in the process), the leader of The Saints is elevated to the position of POTUS. You don’t get to enjoy your position for long though, as during a press conference a full-scale alien invasion by the “Zin” occurs, with the president, their cabinet and large groups of other humans placed inside a simulation that is The Matrix in all but name, with the bodies of those inside the simulation being trapped in pods in the real world. From there The President breaks the rest of their cabinet out and sets in motion a plan to take down Emperor Zinyak- the Zin’s leader. The story consists largely of rescuing the other main characters from simulations representing their greatest fears and doing various task to weaken Zinyak’s hold and escape the simulation. The rescue missions are where a lot of the parodies come in, and each crew member having a “Mass Effect 2”-esque loyalty mission. Speaking of “Mass Effect”, it’s one of the main things being parodied, with The President’s ship looking very similar to The Normandy, and the romance options boiled down to a single button press. Said romance options can be carried out with the same sex, the opposite sex, everyone on the ship, no one on the ship and everyone in between, which is pretty cool. Inclusive, certainly.

The parodies and references cover everything from weapons lifted from the likes of “Robocop” and “Firefly”, to nods to things like “Watchmen” and full-blown parodies of games like “Metal Gear Solid”. There are also various references to the previous games, with returning cast members being a highlight. The various parodies and jokes are all well-written and genuinely funny- a hard thing to achieve in games, and at times it’s pleasingly reminiscent of “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon”; another game that did comedic writing well. The story itself is weak as a cohesive whole, but as a serious of humorous, fun set pieces it works well. The one complaint I have is a small one but worth pointing out: I created a character in “Saints Row 2” I’ve taken through three whole games now, and part of me wishes I could take him to a conclusion that was tonally more in line with the second game. Having said that the continuity is good enough to feel like it’s the same character further on down the line, and the conclusion for the character is a good one, even if the conclusion to this individual story isn’t great. It’s not an epic “Metal Gear Solid 4”-style wrap up of all that came before it, but it does bring a sense of closure to the story of The Saints’ leader.

Gameplay wise, it feels very different to the previous games. Gunfights and cars are still a feature, but they’re on the back-burner this time, particularly vehicles. You see, The Saints boss now has Neo-esque super powers, which are represented in two forms; active powers and passive ones. Active are things like a freeze blast and telekinesis while passive include a super jump and super sprint, with gliding and boosting mid-air a la “Prototype”. Prototype is the best comparison for the passive powers, which make travelling around the simulated city of Steelport feel completely different to how it did in “The Third”, to the point where it feels like a completely different game. This is especially good when you consider that it uses the same engine as the previous title, with the same graphics and animations. The city is constantly cloaked in darkness which quickly gets old, but upon completing the game you can change the day/night cycle. Many missions involve a mixture of “activities” (a “Saints Row” staple) and holding off waves of aliens while protecting various machines and other humans, which can quickly get annoying until you upgrade your health, which no longer regenerates. This isn’t a big problem though, as enemies all drop health pick-ups. Having said that, it seems odd that this game, the one essentially set in The Matrix, doesn’t have regenerating health when the others did. One other problem with the combat is that once notoriety is gained during missions it’s hard to lower, regardless of how many waves of increasingly tough aliens you kill. This is particularly annoying on the side quests involving hacking.

Overall, “Saints Row IV” is a drastically different direction for the series. The new superpowers, aliens and even higher stakes than before all make it feel fresh and different enough to warrant a purchase and justify the full-price retail release and the humor is actually rather successful. If you didn’t like “The Third”, I’d suggest doing some thorough research on this one before buying, as it’s moved even further away from the early games’ more serious tone. Similarly if you long for the glory days of “Saints Row 2”, you won’t find them here. It’s not for everyone and the radical changes will definitely rub some people up the wrong way, but I had a good time with it, and it’s one of the most purely fun-focused games I’ve played in a while. I say check it out, at least for a look at a more light-hearted sandbox game before GTA V comes along next month.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, as shown in the promotional material for the game, there’s a Dubstep gun. As in a gun that literally fires Dubstep. The game offers no context for it, but then, what kind of context could they offer that would cover something like that? It’s very indicative of the game’s success- that something like that can be present in the way it is and be not only useful but fun to use.

Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut Review

Chances are you’ve most likely heard of “Deadly Premonition”, and you may well have played it, too. Upon its 2010 Xbox 360 people weren’t entirely sure what to make of it. Some said it was complete crap. Some said it was genuinely so bad it’s good- that it has problems but should be played regardless. Jim Sterling gave it a 10/10 and called it a “Beautiful Trainwreck”- a review he stands by to this day. Regardless of their thoughts on the game’s quality, one notion was rather common: that the game needed to be experienced. Fast forward three years and we have the PS3 exclusive “Director’s Cut” version, offering new scenarios, better graphics and 3D support, among other things. So is the game any good? If it isn’t, should you play it anyway? Read on.

Firstly, it’s best to approach the game with an open mind. While playing it will become rather obvious that the game has more than its share of problems: the lip synching is laughable at times, the animations are often bizarre and exaggerated or sometimes jerky and awkward. The voice acting is often echoey and poorly balanced. The game’s map is appalling- it doesn’t zoom out nearly far enough to get decent perspective so you have to trace the roads searching for your destination, and it flips depending on which way you’re facing. Add to that the general lack of polish, the repetitive combat and just how strange parts of the game can be and you’ve got a lot of people turning the game off to play something else. I had the 360 version and didn’t get very far. The enemies in that version take ages to kill, and I was put off at first by how clunky the game was. However, I gave the PS3 version a try, and weirdly became invested in it immediately. What I’m saying is give it a chance- it might surprise you. The game has a whole host of problems and you wouldn’t be at all inaccurate if you were to describe it as “a bit of a mess”, but that didn’t matter to me for two main reasons.

Firstly, the story and characters are fantastic. Admittedly the plot owes a whole lot to “Twin Peaks” (it rips off quite a lot of it, as you’ll see in a minute), but it has enough original ideas, the characters are charming and likable enough and the plot is genuinely intriguing enough that it can get away with it. Secondly, the game doesn’t care what you think of it. It’s just going to do its own thing, and you can come and go as you please. It’s unique, and it should be praised for that. But what does the story actually entail? You are Francis York Morgan (Just call him York, everybody does) an FBI special agent newly arrived in Greenvale to investigate the murder of a young woman. York talks to his other personality “Zach” in full view of other people (often talking about them), talks about gruesome past cases during dinner, is openly rude to the local law enforcement helping him, and is very particular about his coffee. Which gives him important clues pertaining to the case. The story balances dark, macabre murder mystery and bizarre, off-beat humor, mainly due to the dialogue and the excellent soundtrack coming in at what seems to be largely inappropriate times. A 70’s cop show style piece comes in when York is on the job, but the most noticeable example is the now famous “Life is beautiful”- a cheery whistled tune that often comes in during some of the game’s darker moments. The game also makes liberal use of stock sound effects, with the two best examples being two squirrels that sound like apes, and a “Surprise/shock” horror sound effect that often comes in with a slight delay to humorous effect.

The bizarre plot also extends to the town’s inhabitants, who all have routines and daily lives- they run shops and business, go for lunch and go home to sleep in the evening. They’re all fleshed out through sidequests and conversations, and each one is at least worth checking in with now and then. Oh, and there’s wheelchair-bound man in a gas mask whose personal aid speaks entirely in rhyme. Make of that what you will.

The gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played “Resident Evil 4” or any of its numerous clones. Well the combat will anyway. Half of the time you’re driving around town in a car with dodgy physics (hitting other cars makes you instantly stop), talking to people, visiting shops and driving to different combat areas. The combat itself is third person, over-the-shoulder shooting against what I think are zombies; it’s never explained in the main story. The combat sections involve York looking for clues to make up his profiles for different parts of the case, and the shooting is functional but nothing at all special. The most noticeable new feature in this version is that the enemies are all easier to kill, which is very useful for getting them over with so you can get back to the story. It’s not bad, but compared to everything else, the combat is the weakest part. Speaking of new features, the new graphics are nice but don’t make too much of a difference, and 3D and Playstation Move are things I’d never pay for, so I didn’t get to see a lot of them. I was focusing on the game anyway.

Yes, “Deadly Premonition” is a mess. Yes it does have a lot of problems and for most critics it won’t be seeing any “best of the year” lists. But after a few hours of playing the game the problems all faded away and I found myself really enjoying it, and not in any kind of ironic way. It does genuinely achieve the “so bad it’s good” label that gets slapped onto various pieces of media, but I do think it’s actually good as well. Regardless of what you think of its quality, it’s definitely worth experiencing for yourself, more so than quite a few triple A titles released this year. Including “The Last of Us”. Yeah, I said it.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Aliens Colonial Marines Review

So here it is- the second part of my “Late reviews of shit games that came out earlier in the year” double bill: Aliens: Colonial Marines. This, along with “The Walking Dead Survival Instinct” were both critically panned upon release and although I wanted to check them out for myself I wasn’t prepared to pay full price for either. Fortunately Survival Instinct was in a PSN sale for £17 recently and Aliens has dropped to £13 (at the time of me buying it) for the special edition complete with a statue that bears little resemblance to the actual game. So I picked them both up, reviewed one, and after what seems like an agonising eternity I have finished “Aliens: Colonial Marines”. Not because it’s a long game, but because I hate it, and every time I played it I felt like I could be doing something far better with my time.

After being in development for years (I remember when Playstation 2 was still the dominant console, PS3 was on the horizon and there was talk of the game hopefully being released soon) and finally being released by Gearbox (the geniuses behind “Borderlands”/the utter monsters responsible for unleashing “Duke Nukem Forever” on the world. Mix and match or delete as is applicable to your opinion) who shifted the blame onto the other developers involved until someone sued them for misleading game footage, at which point they started steadfastly defending the game. It’s set after the classic sci-fi horror “Aliens” but features only one returning character (and one sort-of returning character) and a horrendous, poorly explained retcon.

Using that as a starting point, let’s talk about the story. It’s bad. A group of marines find the distress signal left by Hicks in the film and investigate it, leading to the discovery of Xenomorphs, and a marine by the name of Bella who was attacked by a facehugger. Soon after, the cartoonishly evil and ridiculously stupid Weyland-Utani corporation turn up and pretty much declare war on the colonial marines- opening fire on you and your team mates on sight. From there you free a captured marine whose presence spoils the film series’ canon (more on that later), attempt to remove Bella’s facehugger, get chased by a massive new alien type and generally potter around spouting awful one liners. One of the biggest problems here is the writing- it is utterly, completely terrible. The two main culprits are the marines you spend the most time with; O’Neal and Bella. Possibly my most hated NPCs this year. Their relationship is based on – to quote O’Neal – “a sex thing” – and they spend most of their time giving out goofy, cringe-worthy one-liners and finishing chunks of dialogue with either “Oorah to ashes” or “Never leave a marine behind” whether the situation calls for it or not. Bella is the standard two-dimensional tough chick and O’Neal is your basic jarhead sidekick. I can’t stand either of them. Elsewhere is Captain Cruz, who thankfully isn’t in the game much because when he takes a more active role in the story later he’s just as bad, if not worse (actual sample dialogue: “I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in fuck that any of you were coming back alive”). The only character with a consistent level of dignity is Bishop, and he’s an android.

Speaking of Bishop, he’s one of the two main problems the story has outside of its woefully unlikable characters and abhorrent dialogue. Now, I like “Aliens”; I think it’s a great film. However, I haven’t watched it for a while and during my playthrough I was judging the story on its own merits. However, one of these ruins the film series’ canon and the other is a prime example of its other major problem. Firstly is Bishop. It’s only mentioned late in the game that this is a different Bishop to the one in the film (who was cut in half). The question of his death is raised and he shrugs it off with “different Bishop”. Nothing more is ever said about this, and this is the first time it’s ever discussed. This trait carries on to the laughably bad ending, in which (SPOILERS for a terrible game that came out in February) Captain Cruz uses a spaceship he’s trapped in to knock the Alien queen out into space (the queen was knocked out into space at the end of the film so I’m not sure why she’s here. You learn to stop asking questions) but not before he basically says “Go stop Weyland-Utani and get revenge for all the dead marines. Also come save the other ones because we don’t leave marines behind now. Bye now”. Then there’s a rushed conclusion in which an important new character is killed, turns out to be an adroid and Bishop instantly obtains all the information the marines need. Questions arise only to be shrugged off with a quick line or two, and alongside the ending is perhaps the story’s biggest “What the actual hell?” moment: the captured marine.

The captured marine is Hicks. Michael Biehn reprises his role (in the worse of his two videogame roles this year) as Hicks, who died in-between “Aliens” and “Alien 3”. Not only has the game retconned his death in the films, the explanation is brief and offers no adequate explanation, with a large chunk of it being cordoned off with the phrase “That’s a longer story.” It makes that big a change and doesn’t fully explain it.

Moving on to gameplay. A lot of the time it’s a bog-standard first person shooter. On Soldier (normal) difficulty the aliens’ A.I is crap- they run right at you out in the open and make no real attempt to use their environment apart from hiding in scripted, textureless black holes in the walls. These are not the Xenos from the film- these are canon fodder. That’s when they even bother to turn up. A lot of the time you’ll face Weyland-Utani troops whose A.I is equally bad (one time I threw a grenade at a soldier and he just stood next to it and covered his face), but can take your health down rather quickly and can take rather a lot of shots to kill. The weapons are an uninspired array of machine guns, rifles and shotguns that can all be customised, but for the most part I stuck to the classic “Aliens” Pulse Rifle, which is faithfully recreated, apart from the fact that it uses a burst fire sound effect even when you’re firing full auto. The weapons lack any real weight or heft, and none of them are particularly fun to use. There’s never really any deviation from following a linear path, killing a number of brain-dead humans and/or Xenomorphs and then pressing a button so your character will interact with the environment in whatever method is required at the time. It’s a boring slog from start to finish, and offers nothing of interest or excitement.

Any plus points? Well, parts of it have been recreated reasonably well- the pulse rifle and motion tracker for example. There is also one level that does offer something a bit different- a stealth mission through a sewer filled with a Xeno type that is blind and tracks sounds. This is, however slightly spoiled by the fact that they don’t react if they bump into you, and you get all your gear back from one convenient bag. Did the Xenos put all your weapons in there?

Overall, “Aliens: Colonial Marines” is terrible. The gameplay is drab, boring and repetitive, the graphics verge from decent to hideous (particularly some of the character models), the characters are unlikable and the writing is atrocious. Several parts of the plot are shrugged off and not explained, particularly the ending, which is a joke. This is easily the worst game I’ve played so far this year.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

DLC Reviews: Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches and Bioshock Infinite: Clash in the Clouds

So, it’s that time again. “Dishonored” and “Bioshock Infinite” both got new DLC recently, and I checked them both out.

First up: “The Brigmore Witches”.

Following on directly from the previous DLC “The Knife of Dunwall”, “Brigmore Witches” once again focuses on the actions of Michael Madsen-voiced super-assassin Daud; the man who killed The Empress at the start of the main story. After going on a mission to uncover who or what “Delilah” is and discovering it to be the name of a powerful witch with big plans and a chip on her shoulder, this time around Daud’s mission is to track her down and kill her. Like “Knife of Dunwall” Daud has various other problems/side-missions/busy work to get through along the way to his ultimate goal which serves as a means to both pad out the run time and show off some new locations. This time you visit the prison Corvo escaped from, the rich district and Brigmore manor, with only the latter really providing anything of interest. It serves as the base of operations for Delilah, and both the inside and outside areas are fun, tense and genuinely tricky to navigate stealthily, and stealth is even more essential here, as the witches in the game are tough and fight in packs.

In terms of actual review points, it’s pretty much the same as “Knife of Dunwall” in terms of content- Daud controls the same as Corvo but has a few new powers, the new environments are well designed and interesting for the most part and the stealth gameplay is still fun and well done. It still has the same problem as the main game in its misguided attempt to have a multitude of choices available and is definitely still best played as an all-out stealth game, but I found that having cleared the main game and “Knife of Dunwall” I’m starting to let that go and starting to enjoy the game more. The DLC actually made me want to replay the main story. Daud is still a more interesting character than Corvo – mainly because he has a backstory, a motivation other than killing people on request and actually talks – and carries these two shorter sections nicely. The story here doesn’t add a great deal to the overall narrative, but is tight and ties into it quite well. Particularly the ending.

So overall, this is one worth picking up. It’s essentially the same concept as “The Knife of Dunwall”- smaller levels that are largely set-up for a main confrontation at the end, interesting new areas (KOD had the slaughter house, TBW has Brigmore manor) a more interesting new protagonist and the same good stealth gameplay. If you liked the main story and KOD, you’ll like this.

Next up, “Clash in the Clouds”:

This one is very easy to sum up: challenge mode.

Following on from the weapon and item packs, “Clash in the clouds” seems to be something of a stop-gap to keep people happy until the awesome-looking “Burial at Sea” comes out (if you haven’t seen the trailer or, hell, even the poster for that yet, go and do so now, I’ll wait.). Having said that, I’m not particularly averse to CITC. I quite like it in fact. It’s nothing special, but it’s nothing bad, either.

Starting off in the Columbia Archaeological Society (which acts as your hub), you travel to one of four medium-sized arenas (three of which are unlocked with money you earn for various things), where you go through waves of various enemies, ranging from regular soldiers armed with melee weapons to the likes of Handymen and Motorized Patriots. Numerous weapons are available for free before each wave, as well as your health and ammo regenerating and two vending machines on hand. Each wave has a “Blue Ribbon” challenge ranging in difficulty (easy things like kill all enemies with a machine gun to more complex challenges like have a possessed Motorized Patriot kill an enemy caught in a Bucking Bronco trap). That’s pretty much it, really. Waves of enemies with a challenge per wave, currency for weapon upgrades, new arenas and vigors/vigor upgrades. Just pure combat, no story.

But is it any good? Well, that depends entirely on how much you enjoy the combat part of “Bioshock Infinite”. In terms of content it’s very sparse- it’s just gunning down waves of enemies with one challenge per wave. There are leader boards if that’s your thing, but that’s about it. Personally I liked the combat in Infinite but felt it worked best when it was juxtaposed with the game’s fantastic story, and on its own it lacks a certain something. Not bad per se, but nothing noteworthy. Only buy if you loved the combat in Infinite and feel you’d play a lot of it stand-alone.

So, “The Brigmore Witches” is a success, “Clash in the Clouds” is a smaller success, but overall they’re both worth checking out. TBW is the superior, more worthwhile product, however, and if you were to choose only one of these, go for that one.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Top Ten “Metal Gear Solid” Moments Part 2 (6-10)

Continuing on from my last post, here is the other half of my “Top Ten Metal Gear Solid Moments” article.

6. Snake and Ocelot- through the years. Or: “LIQUIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID!”

Game: MGS4
Who’s Involved? Old Snake, Liquid Ocelot
What happens? Snake and Ocelot fight to the death on top of Outer Haven

The final gameplay section of “Metal Gear Solid 4”, after a stirring, emotional scene involving Snake crawling down a long corridor filled with microwaves, involves a trope I’m fond of- the main protagonist and antagonist having a massive, dramatic punch up to the death. This particular fight involves Ocelot and Snake, with the fight being split up into four sections. Each one uses a different piece of music and a different style of health bar for the two which reflects a different game- MGS1, 2, 3 and finally 4 are represented, as the two battle through the years. It’s a fun fight although control wise a very simple one, and after it’s finished Ocelot finally bows out, his last words being “You’re pretty good”, with an audio clip of MGS3 Ocelot echoing it as he dies.

Why is it in here?

It works on three levels: one, for the amusing spectacle of seeing two old men have a badass CQC fight in which they beat the crap out of each other. Two, for being the final moments of Ocelot- one of the most important characters in the series, as well as one of the coolest. Finally, for, like certain other MGS4 moments I’ve already mentioned, for being a fantastic slice of playable nostalgia. The flashbacks and references to the previous games are excellent, and as a final fight between two old foes it’s a damn good one.

7. “There’s only room for one Boss, and one Snake…”

Game: MGS3
Who’s Involved? Naked Snake, The Boss
What happens? Naked Snake completes his mission to eliminate “The Boss”- his mentor.

Before the emotional gut-punch that is MGS3’s ending came the final boss- a timed fight against Naked Snake’s mentor and the greatest living solider “The Boss”. She’s a challenge to beat, but the fight isn’t what I chose- it’s the moment where the game forces you to pull the trigger on The Boss with her own gun as she lays defeated on the ground. She gives Snake a speech along the lines of “This has to happen, it’s alright, just shoot me.”, and the white flowers that fill the battle ground turn red upon her death.

Why is it in here?

It’s a crucial moment in Naked Snake’s character development, as well as the story development as a whole. Much like the ending of MGS3 it chronologically sets up the shifty US Government of the series, Naked Snake’s move towards setting up Outer Heaven, and all that that act brings with it. The series begins chronologically with MGS3, particularly with the game’s closing moments.

8. “Only a fool trusts his life to a weapon.”

Game: MGS1
Who’s Involved? Solid Snake, Gray Fox, Otacon
What happens? Snake faces the Cyborg Ninja in battle

Upon tracking down creator of Metal Gear Rex (for the record, the best Metal Gear in my opinion) Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, Snake also finds a Cyborg Ninja that has been repeatedly appearing/contacting Snake throughout the game. The Ninja challenges Snake to a fight, which goes a hell of a lot more smoothly should the player attack him barehanded (hence the quotation). Snake and the Ninja fight hand-to-hand (which isn’t particularly fluid considering Snake’s melee attacks are limited to three, stiff, sequential strikes, a throw and a choke hold). Upon defeating him Snake realises the Ninja is his old friend/enemy (from the 8-Bit games) Gray Fox. During the battle Fox relishes the pain he feels from being in a real battle with Snake- something he has yearned for for some time.

Why is it in here?

Like I said in the last post, MGS1 had some great bosses, and this was one of the best. Gameplay wise fist fighting a teleporting Cyborg Ninja was awesome, and story wise it was a great fight between Snake and his old compatriot.

9. “Call me… Big Boss.”

Game: MGS Peace Walker
Who’s Involved? Naked Snake, Kazuhira Miller
What Happens? Naked Snake abandons his past and finally takes up the title “Big Boss”

Much like the “This is Outer Heaven” speech I included in the first five moments, this is a defining moment at the end of “Peace Walker” in which Naked Snake makes an important decision and announcement. This time he reflects on The Boss’ decision to metaphorically “put down her gun” (I say metaphorically; she’s an A.I inside a walking tank in this one. It’s strange.), which as a soldier he considers a betrayal of everything she had done up to that point. He decides to move on, and tells Kaz to call him Big Boss from now on- the title he had refrained from using out of anger at the government and respect to The Boss’ legacy.

Why is it in here?

Pretty much the same reasons “This is Outer Heaven” is on the list. However, as to the reason why it’s further up the list is that despite the scene being thoroughly excellent, it’s spoiled by the fact that immediately after this event Kaz calls up Big Boss and calls him “Snake”. Also, in the trailer for MGSV he’s now calling himself “Punished Snake. So it falls through in that regard. Still a good scene though.

10. “I need scissors. SIXTY ONE!”

61

Game: MGS2
Who’s Involved? Raiden, Colonel Campbell
What Happens? I think Colonel Campbell might be broken…

Fans of MGS2 rejoice- I have included one moment from it. It may seem a strange one, but I do think it’s worth a look. Basically near the end of the game, upon entering the new Metal Gear “Arsenal”, calling Colonel Campbell on the codec will result in a series of bizarre messages that range from creepy to hilarious, with the pinnacle being the title of this entry. It’s later revealed that the Colonel is actually an A.I on the fritz, but before you know that it seems very strange indeed. It’s worth checking out a compilation of them on Youtube or something- they’re great.

Why is it in here?

The MGS series has a great and prevalent sense of humor as well as all of the serious stuff, and I think this is fantastic example of it. The usually dignified, well-spoken Colonel descending into absurd non-sequiters, fourth-wall breaking and messages taken verbatim from previous games is a delight to behold.

Well there you have it- my top ten moments from the “Metal Gear Solid” series. Now, there are plenty of moments I could have included, and indeed I could have represented each game a lot more. I could do at least ten moments from MGS1, 3 and 4 easily, and possibly even 2 if I put my mind to it. The vast majority of the series is pure gold, and even including the bits that aren’t I love it to bits. The “Legacy Collection” featuring every game in the series bar “Portable Ops” is being released in the UK on the 13th of September, and if you haven’t played the series before I highly recommend picking it up. If you like the sound of it that is.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Pictures used:
6. http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20111102191505/metalgear/images/2/2c/Liquid_VS_Snake_MGS4.jpg
7. http://metalgearsolid.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/MGS3-Screen.jpg
8. http://www.mobygames.com/images/shots/l/36797-metal-gear-solid-windows-screenshot-the-cyborg-ninja-snake.jpg This image was taken from mobygames.com, however the copyright for the game itself belongs to Konami and Kojima. I claim no ownership of the image or anything depicted therein.
9. http://oyster.ignimgs.com/wordpress/write.ign.com/144944/2013/02/Call-me-Big-Boss-600×308.png
10. I took myself

Top Ten “Metal Gear Solid” Moments Part 1 (1-5)

So a while ago I wrote a piece about my top five upcoming games. Although since then the list has changed around a bit in my mind, one thing remains constant: “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” at number one. These days it’s rare I actually look forward to any games as such- I approach them with cautious optimism at most and complete negativity at worst. There are games I anticipate with genuine affection though, and in that regard I planned this article for a while, as a tie-in to my wait for MGSV. A few ground rules had to be considered before hand. Those of you who have already glanced down the list may have seen that it does lean rather heavily on the exploits of Big Boss. This is for two reasons: firstly he’s incredibly important to the overall plot of the series (he’s arguably the most important alongside Ocelot) and two he’s my favorite character, and this is a list based entirely on my experiences with the games. The one main rule I established for the list was that it can only include games in the “Metal Gear Solid” series- no “Metal Gear” or “Metal Gear Rising”. I’ve put the moments in order as best I can- a lot of them I deem worthy of the top spot. Finally: I love Metal Gear Solid. It’s my second favorite franchise. In fact it may even be my favorite when you consider the inconsistent quality of “Silent Hill”, which I consider my number one. I’ve been playing MGS for years, and I love everything about it. Every ridiculous, over-blown, nonsensical bone in its body. Except for MGS2. I like that one, but less than the others. So, onto the list:

Oh, spoilers obviously. Major spoilers.

1. “This is good… isn’t it?”

Game: MGS4
Who’s involved? Big Boss, Old Snake
What happens? Big Boss finally dies, after insisting Snake stop fighting.

After an entire accelerated life of fighting, and after completing his final, most important mission, there’s one last loose end for Solid Snake to tie up. He goes to the grave of MGS3 character “The Boss” (more on her later) to kill himself only to be interupted by his clone “father” Big Boss (long thought to be dead). Big Boss explains what happened to him between “Metal Gear 2” and “MGS4”, kills his old friend turned enemy Major Zero and after a touching embrace and the only real father-son moment the two share in the series he is killed by the virus emanating from Snake. He dies against The Boss’ gravestone, smoking a cigar, exiting on the reflection “This is good… isn’t it?”

Why is it in here?

For three reasons: One, it’s the genuinely surprising return of Big Boss, back to explain what the hell really happened to him, two: the moment he has with his “Son” is genuinely touching, as he implores Snake to stop fighting and live a normal life, and three: Big Boss dies. The big man himself bows out in as dramatic a fashion as he chronologically entered the series in “Metal Gear Solid 3”. “MGS4” was all about tying up loose ends and bringing a conclusion to it all, and what better way than to have Big Boss and Solid Snake have one last moment together?

2. “History will never know what she did.”

Game: MGS3
Who’s involved? Naked Snake, Eva
What happens? The first steps towards “Outer Heaven” are taken, as Naked Snake experiences the ultimate betrayal.

The main plot of “MGS3” involves main character Naked Snake (the young Big Boss) on a mission in Russia with one of his objectives being to terminate his mentor “The Boss”- the greatest living soldier, and the person who taught him everything he knows- who has defected to the Soviet Union. When he finally achieves this goal (the act itself enough to emotionally rip him in half), it’s revealed to him afterwards by Chinese spy “Eva” that his beloved mentor never actually defected. She was on a secret mission to steal the wealth of “The Philosopher’s Legacy”, which went sour when an insane Russian Colonel fired a nuke at a Russian base. Rather than lose the legacy, they threw her to the dogs and had her own student kill her. Snake visits her grave, salutes, and cries.

Why is it in here?

After a game that follows a more adventurous, at times melodramatic tone with a lot of humor throne in, the genuinely emotional climax is brought in to knock the wind out of you- getting a real reaction from events that feel logical while also being a good twist to it all. Also, this is where it starts- the US government are shown to be pretty shady in the MGS universe, and this is Ground Zero for Big Boss/Naked Snake’s decision to abandon it and form “Outer Heaven”. It’s also a fantastic ending to a fantastic game. I love it.

3. Return to Shadow Moses

Game: MGS4
Who’s Involved? Old Snake
What happens? A generation of gamers have a metaphorical homecoming.

For the fourth chapter of MGS4, Kojima took the series back to its roots with a loving, HD remake of Shadow Moses island- the setting of “Metal Gear Solid”- the first “Metal Gear” game many people played, myself included. Though the whole chapter takes place here and is pretty much all excellent set-pieces, one particularly stands out- the heliport. The first outdoor area you come cross in the original, here it’s thoroughly drenched in nostalgia. The wonderful ending theme “The best is yet to come” is played, various nods and flashbacks to the original can be activated (including Snake pining for the good old days of “overhead view”) and the whole thing opens with the original section carried over verbatim. It’s lovely.

Why is it in here?

It’s a lovingly recreated, beautiful nostalgia trip of the highest caliber. You don’t have to go around finding the flashbacks, but for me, a homecoming to Shadow Moses was far too good to miss.

Speaking of Shadow Moses…

4. “Snake… do you like me?”

Game: MGS1
Who’s involved? Solid Snake, Meryl Silverburgh, Psycho Mantis
What happens? Psycho Mantis appears, as the most interesting boss fight of MGS1 begins

MGS1 had one of the better teams of strange bosses: Fox Hound. About a third of the way through the game Snake encounters floating, telekinetic mind-reader Psycho Mantis, whose powers include making the screen go black, reading your memory card, making your controller stop working and possessing ally Meryl Silverbergh. He also has a creepy theme song, which acts as his “Mind Control Music”. He’s fun to fight, a cool idea and one of the more memorable fights in the game.

Why is it on here?

He’s an original idea for a boss, his “powers” are a humorous addition that was pretty impressive back in the day, and his fight offered something different than simply hiding behind cover and choosing the right moment to strike. The idea of turning Meryl against Snake was also a good one.

5. “This is Outer Heaven”

This is outer heaven

Game: MGS Peace Walker
Who’s involved? Big Boss, Militaires Sans Frontières
What Happens? Big Boss gives a rousing speech to his troops as Outer Heaven is born

After the credits roll for the second time on the excellent “Peace Walker”, the game cuts to a title screen. Footsteps are heard. Big Boss takes the microphone and outlines his Outer Heaven idea to his amassed troops. “…our purpose defined by the era we live in. We will sometimes have to sell ourselves, and services. If the times demand it, we’ll be revolutionaries, criminals, terrorists…”.

Why is it in here?

It’s one hell of a speech. Outer Heaven is born as Big Boss finally makes his dream a reality with a great choice of words that make the hair on one’s neck stand up. Much as I said about “MGS4”, what better way to end “Peace Walker” – a game all about Snake building up his personal army without a nation – than Big Boss succeeding and making Outer Heaven a reality? It’s a strong end.

This is starting to run on rather a bit, so I’ll break things off here. Look out for Part 2 of this list (6-10), which will be on here tomorrow at the latest.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Images used:

1. http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130529192002/metalgear/es/images/b/bd/Images_2.jpg
2. http://sleeplessgamers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/2443436-big-boss-salute.jpg
3. http://herninavody.cz/wp-content/uploads/game-act4-2.jpg
(The image was taken from this site but it belongs to Konami. I claim no ownership of the image or what is depicted in it)
4. http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110823121859/villains/images/6/6a/Psycho_mantis.png
5. I took myself.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review

So I recently got my hands on two games I wanted to review when they came out but avoided picking up due to their price and reputation: “Aliens: Colonial Marines” and “The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct”. Aliens will keep until next week, but I got the latter in a PSN sale (it’s still full price on various websites due to the link to the television series), finished it the day I started playing it and felt it best to get it out of the way and hopefully not have to touch it again until my “Top 5 and Bottom 5 games of 2013” list rolls around later this year. “Survival Instinct” was originally released back in March, earned a pretty much universal panning from critics and now I’ve got my hands on it.

Whereas the excellent Telltale “Walking Dead” game was set in the same universe as the original (and also excellent) comic series, this one is set before the inferior amc television series (I won’t go into my thoughts on the series here- that would take up the whole review and then some) following brothers Daryl and Merle Dixon as they meander through the deep South doing…something or other as they attempt to…keep moving South, I think. The story is largely relegated to between-mission loading screens and like most of the game it’s flat and lifeless. Apart from one mission that involves chasing a largely unseen biker gang and a slightly more tactical edge to the gameplay the plot of each mission is pretty much entirely fetch quests. The brothers have no development or arc to speak of, Merle is hardly in the game at all, and were it not for the voice over work by Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker they would just be two brash, unlikable redneck cliches. Having said that, they’re not far from that anyway. The game’s ending is almost amusingly anti-climactic- it doesn’t bring any closure and leaves the entire game feeling unfinished.

Gameplay wise, it’s surprisingly better than I expected, but by no means good. The game has a stealth focus which does make sense given certain elements: gunshots draw in large amounts of zombies and if groups of them get close they can bog you down in a hard to avoid mini-game in which you move a reticle over the zombie and press the attack button to kill it with a knife. On one or two zombies this isn’t a problem, but it gets real old real fast when you’re swamped by a large group and it seems like you’re endlessly stabbing zombies that pop in from out of nowhere to grab at you. Despite the emphasis placed on stealth it doesn’t work particularly well. The undead will occassioanally ignore you so you can instantly kill them from behind, but there’s no radar or means of seeing how visible you are or how much noise you’re making, and it’s hard to know which zombies will see you and which ones won’t. Ammo is limited as are health supplies, and the “Survival” part of the title is an essential part of the game, although it does often feel rather trivial. The worst part of being killed is the rather long loading times, and although you’re encouraged to pick up fuel for your vehicle during missions, should you run out the game automatically dumps you in a small area so you can find some and be back on your way- same if you require a new part for your vehicle. It just adds up to unnecessary busy work in the end- a distraction from the main game.

Although not the game’s biggest problem, it does have its fair share of lazy animations and glitches. I encountered some pretty bad texture pop-in during my playthrough (mainly on walls), an amusing animation where the zombies attempt to break through wooden fences and doors that results in parts of the structure flying off seemingly at random, and the most obvious one of all- the zombies’ reactions to your attacks. Unless you hit them with something like the axe or sledgehammer, it’s going to take several knocks to the head to put them down. Knocks to the head that simply make them turn their heads to the side like you’re gently slapping them. It looks utterly ridiculous, and I think I know why it’s there. The zombies in the game can only be killed by attacking the brain, as is consistent with the series, comic and many other zombie films. In order to prevent it being too easy to kill every enemy in the game with a single blow to the head, they had to even it out by making the melee damage each zombie head is capable of taking similar to that of say, the torso of an enemy in another game. It makes sense, but still looks silly.

So, “The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct” isn’t very good, but if you’ve read any reviews on it you probably knew that already. I just wanted to see it for myself. The biggest problem here isn’t the glitches, nor is it the fact that the game is broken or unplayable, which it genuinely isn’t. The biggest problem here is that it’s rushed, lazy and boring. I’ve heard it said that the game was rushed out to coincide with the end of Season 3 of the television series, and if that was the case it would certainly explain a lot of the problems here. Unlike “Aliens: Colonial Marines” it’s clear that the developers did actually try to get some new ideas in here, but what they were left with is a boring, rushed, unfinished mess that’s short, ugly, boring to play and definitely not worth the outrageous price that a lot of places are asking for it.

Wait a minute… it’s a poor, bland adaptation with boring, unlikable characters and a crap story? Then it’s a perfect companion piece for “The Walking Dead” TV series!

(Okay, maybe I’ll very briefly go into my thoughts on the show.)

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18