The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 5: No Going Back Review and a look back at the season as a whole

So, another Telltale series comes to an end, and it’s “The Walking Dead” at that. It’s been a long, dark journey, but is it a satisfying conclusion? Does it match Season 1’s finale?

Spoilers for the previous episode follow. Also, if you don’t want to know anything about this episode’s content, avoid the review until you’ve played it. Should you download it? Yes, you should. It’s a good episode overall, but with one major problem.

The episode picks up right where episode 4 left off, with the group mid-gunfight with some Russians. Things quickly resolve themselves however, and the one surviving member leading Clem and friends to a house that’s apparently stocked with supplies. Things rather rapidly degrade over the course of the episode, with Kenny’s increasingly unhinged and brutal behaviour being a massive point of contention for the group and Clem having to decide whose side she’s on, should the worst come to the worst. It’s a dire episode, even by TWD standards, and a lot of the choices for me were rather one-sided, considering I’d already decided my allegiance. There’s one particularly dark section right near the end, and overall the episode is good on its own, and a nice, dark wrap up for the whole season. There’s just one big problem though, and that’s with the choice at the end.

SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE EPISODE (AND THE FINALE OF SEASON 1)

So at the end of the episode you’ll end up arriving at Wellington- a community guarded by high walls. I arrived with Kenny, and upon being told that we couldn’t go in, Kenny begged that Clementine and Rebecca’s Baby Alvin Jr be allowed entry at Kenny’s expense. Your final choice is whether to go in, or stay outside with Kenny/whoever’s with you. Now, Kenny has a big, heartfelt speech about how Clem deserves better, and how he’s such a piece of shit and begs her to stay here where she’ll be safe. Purely because of this, I agreed to stay at Wellington. I looked it up, and staying out with Kenny is a perfectly viable choice in which they walk off together to go on adventures. I may be over-reacting, but that ruins it for me. “Obviously I would stay with Kenny if I could, but this is for the best- he wants me to stay here. Wait, I CAN stay with Kenny and everything’s fine? Well why would I pick anything else?” I want it on record- I’m going to go back and change my final choice. Killing Lee at the end of Season 1 to stop him coming back as a zombie felt like THE choice, but either choice made sense in the situation- either Clem gives them both an act of mercy, or can’t bring herself to pull the trigger. In my final situation in season 2, there’s an obvious choice there to the point that the alternative doesn’t even make sense to me. It’s a shame, considering the build up it had.

SPOILERS END

So, as a finale it’s good, apart from that last choice (which as I said, I’m going to go back and change). It’s not as good as the finale to season 1, but it still wraps up the season well, and as an episode it’s a good one.

On the season as a whole:

Parts of it really worked, and parts of it fall short of season 1, in my opinion. The whole interlude with Carver felt a bit throw-away despite taking up a good chunk of the season’s plot. Replacing the driving narrative of Lee doing everything he can to take care of Clem and prepare her for her inevitable life without him is a less narrow story of Clementine basically trying to survive. I appreciate the focus being squarely on Clem and how she reacts to the other characters- you’re often acting in your own interest and using the other characters, but can also form meaningful connections to the characters, particularly Kenny, whose comeback I particularly enjoyed. I also like how he, for better or worse, becomes a defining part of the plot, especially in the later episodes. The transfer from looking after Clem to actually playing as her is skillfully handled, and she’s still a very likable character- more so than every other character in the story. The season overall feels different enough to the first one to be noteworthy in that regard- it actually feels generally darker and bleaker (quite a feet considering how depressing the first season could be)- more nihilistic. Whereas Clem in the first season represented something hopeful and innocent, here she can be fully corrupted by the world she lives in (depending on your choices) and the whole thing points out the hopelessness of an apocalyptic scenario, in a way reminiscent of “The Last of Us” and “The Road”. It’s got some great flourishes that show off Telltale’s storytelling and how its skills have grown since season 1, and the choices (the most important part of the game) carry on the same standard as season 1- difficult, realistic and with not much time to make them. This season’s been a real good time, and between this and “The Wolf Among Us” it’s been a good year for Telltale.

It doesn’t have the same effect as Season 1, but it’s still a damn good story and a damn good game, and definitely worth your time. Just a shame about that final choice.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Advertisements

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle Review

So, this one came out of nowhere, huh? I’ve owned and have been playing this since its release, but only thought to review it now. Ah well, better late than never.

Firstly, some context: “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” is a manga that’s been running since the 80s- it’s split into several parts and each one follows a different descendant of the first JoJo- Victorian English gentleman Jonathan Joestar. There’s also an anime, which is currently adapting the most well-known and generally most liked section- Part 3. It’s colourful, over the top, surprisingly violent and I love it. At the time of writing I’ve seen the first two parts of the anime and read the epic (that word gets used a lot but it really is) manga of part 3 (the manga is currently on part 8), and was really anticipating the localised release of the game.

As you can probably tell from the title, it’s a fighting game that includes characters  from all eight parts- the protagonists, their allies and antagonists and condenses the stories of each part in a story mode (except for part 8, which is a protagonist boss rush). Now, I’m no fighting game expert, but I do really enjoy them, and I can do my best to review it as both a fighting game, and as a piece of JoJo fan service.

As a fighting game, it’s quite simple, particularly compared to the other JoJo fighting game on PSN- “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure HD” (Which I recommend). Feature wise it’s pretty standard fare- eight round arcade mode, versus mode (VS COM, Local and Online), a Story Mode and practice. The stand-out here (for better or worse) is Campaign mode. Story and Campaign are where all the unlocks are- Campaign gets you costumes and story mode gets you characters. More on both of those shortly. There are 41 characters in total with nine released as DLC, and they fit into five different styles-  hamon, stand, mode, mounted and vampirism. Practically though, this doesn’t make a whole lot of difference- hamon characters can hold a button to fill their super meters, Stand characters fight with stands (obviously), etc. but while it doesn’t make a huge difference it does add some variety. I said the game is simple, and that’s for one main reason: though you can control it like a normal fighting game- stringing together different button presses to form combos, activating super moves with specific controller motions- it can also be controlled with two buttons and an analogue stick. Repeatedly pressing the square button will take your character through a long combo consisting of several special moves and ending in their super, while with a 2/3 full super meter pressing L1 will activate your character’s ultra. Now as I said this isn’t the only way to control the game, but it may put some people off, particularly those competing online. I don’t have a problem with it so much though- the game does place emphasis on timing and movements, and despite the simplistic controls you can’t just pick anyone and hammer your way to victory. This will work some of the time, but will often get you a beating, particularly if you pick a character with no “ORA ORA ORA!” attack (for those who don’t know, it’s basically a whole load of quick, strong punches so fast it looks like the attacker has multiple arms).

Story mode falls rather short- it can only work with the characters and stages it has (which is uneven; parts 1 and 2 have one stage each, while parts 4, 5 and 6 have two, for example), meaning that the game’s attempts to stage important battles from the manga are lacking at best and crap at worst- all of part 2’s fights take place in the Colosseum and all of 3’s on a street in Egypt, but that’s nothing compared to part six, which is the primary protagonist fighting the primary antagonist three times in a row in the same place. Fortunately, it’s over quickly and it unlocks all of the non-DLC characters, including both versions of DIO. Campaign mode is an odd one. Basically you choose a numbered campaign, and fight either a boss character (defeating them earns you costumes, taunts and the like), or an avatar with an online tag. Various characters from the stories turn up to help you out against bosses, and one helps you by making a boss show up more often. Now for the odd part- in order to search for a boss, damage the boss and pay the characters that help you you have to use up parts of a segmented battery that represents your energy. You can pay microtransactions to buy items that refill the bar, but it refills at a rate of two minutes per segment, which I’ve found to be quick enough to not bother with said microtransactions.

So it’s an enjoyable if  mixed bag as a fighting game, but what about as JoJo fan service? Well, that’s where it shines. The characters all look fantastic- alternate costumes can sometimes turn them into different carnations of the character (DIO in particular has this- so far I’ve got regular, jacketed DIO, powered-up beast DIO and Shadow DIO). The moves are all accurate to the manga, and the special moves are almost entirely named after quotes. The outlandish poses from the manga make an appearance in several places. If you like the manga or anime, you’ll like this- it translates incredibly well into its look and style. It’s incredibly accurate. If anything, this is why you’d buy the game- I bought it to re-enact fights from the anime, mainly.

There’s a clear divide as to whether you should buy this, and the game has a clear audience. If you’re a fan of the anime and/or manga and want a game that lovingly re-creates the characters, locations, poses, moves and all in great detail while also being a fun albeit simple fighting game, this is for you- I love it. If you’re looking for a more challenging, technical fighting game, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Thoughts on: P.T and Silent Hills

Before I get into the piece, please note: “P.T” is definitely worth experiencing without any prior knowledge of its content. I highly recommend you play it yourself before reading this, for that reason and because I’ll be including spoilers as to “P.T”‘s motive and greater context, as well as some of its content. Having said that, however, what I will say is that it’s horror-themed, and genuinely scary. Use your discretion. Anyway, on with the show

So then. “P.T”:

Now, I knew going in what the game actually was, but didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro were going to make a new Silent Hill game called “Silent Hills” starring Norman Reedus (more on that later in the article), and that “P.T” was some kind of demo for it. I had seen a screenshot of a tall, looming figure standing in a hallway, but that was all. Intrigued, I downloaded it and got started.

“P.T” stands for “Playable Teaser”, and that’s what this is: what you get is an interactive experience that’s low on interactivity but high on puzzles and scares, and mainly sets the tone for what’s to come. You awake in a bare room save for a squirming, bloody paper bag. Upon leaving, you find yourself in a hallway- turning the corner leads to another hallway with a bathroom to the side, and a door that leads down to the basement, causing you to loop back around to the first hallway. This is the entire map of the game. You hear on the radio the story of a man who murdered his wife, son and daughter, and it quickly becomes apparent that’s key to what you’re going to experience.

As you move through the loops, things start to change- sometimes there are puzzles, sometimes you’ll find something horrible, sometimes you’ll see something incredibly threatening leering at you before disappearing into the darkness. Sometimes you may even get attacked by something ghastly. As you progress things get increasingly dire and more complicated to complete, ending in a puzzle that much of the internet has agreed is randomised- Kojima has stated he wants people to take ages to complete the whole thing. The amount of variety, tension and sheer fear that can be packed into two hallways and a room is remarkable- as I trampled back and forth down the hallway looking for the next puzzle solution the act of turning around to go back the way I came brought me more tension than pretty much any horror game I can mention. The atmosphere is amazing- you never feel safe, and every loop hurtles you into the unknown as you drag yourself forward, skin crawling. The imagery can be a little hit and miss for me (SPOILERS) – the grisly looking woman sneaking up behind you, grabbing you and grimacing at you was scary, but not very “Silent Hill for me- it was too much of a jump scare. What worked wonders were the weird, misshapen fetus lying in the bathroom sink crying, the bloody fridge suspended from the ceiling with ropes and apparently containing a crying child and the looming figure standing in the hallway. They were beautifully horrible examples of Silent Hill imagery (SPOILERS END), but overall it was fantastic. It’s largely subtle, and a lot better than what the series has shown in recent years. Combined with that story of the man murdering his family the whole thing feels disturbingly personal- tying into the long-running idea that Silent Hill as a town uses the series’ protagonists’ dark pasts against them. For a free interactive teaser, this is incredible work- a lot of love and effort has clearly been put into it, and as a result it’s a genuinely scary, interesting experience that, if it’s any indication of its tone and stlyle, makes me very, very confident that “Silent Hills” will be a return to form. Speaking of which:

Norman Reedus in a Silent Hill game made by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro? I’ll have some of that, thank you very much indeed. I love Kojima’s work (for those who don’t know, he created Metal Gear and he’s been heavily involved with every game in the series) and I think Del Toro will bring a really interesting flair to the horror (“Pan’s Labyrinth” showed me he’s got a real knack for horrifying imagery, both fantastical and realistic), and having played “P.T” I think it’s going to be amazing. The trailer for the game just shows Reedus walking into a town, so I can’t really comment on that, but the playable teaser shows that “Silent Hills” is set to be one hell of a return to form, and a horror game to watch. This is joining “Metal Gear Solid V” as my two most anticipated upcoming games.

I am so up for this.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4 : Amid the Ruins Review

Christ, this was a bleak one. Spoilers for episode 3 to follow

Picking up immediately where episode 3 ends, “Amid the Ruins” picks up with Clem and co. attempting to navigate the horde of undead (with one of the most time-restrictive gameplay parts in this series) to escape Carver’s group. Most of the story is spent where they end up- holing up to rest and deal with Rebecca’s imminent baby. As per usual the choices here are excellent, particularly one that conflicted everything I’ve done as Clem so far. Something I didn’t really care about myself, but seeing as I was role playing as Clementine it was a hard choice to live down. It’s becoming increasingly hard to talk about each episode considering the gameplay doesn’t change and as a story based game it’s hard for me to avoid spoilers, but what I will say is this:

The pacing in this episode moves from very tense to slow and calm. Comments are made on the subject of Clem looking out for herself at the expense of the group. Kenny’s character development takes a dark turn. Speaking of dark, this episode is one of the darkest of the series. Situation after situation comes and goes and leaves you feeling empty and depressed, and it all feels like it’s working towards setting up the inevitably horrible conclusion in episode 5. Much like every episode this series “Amid the ruins” continues to show off just how good Tell tale are, and the game is still a crushingly bleak joy to play every time I install the new episode.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

DLC Reviews: Assassin’s Creed 4 Freedom Cry and Batman: Arkham Origins Cold, Cold Heart

Finally catching up on two pieces of DLC I want to talk about: AC4’s “Freedom Cry” and Arkham Origins’ “Cold, Cold, Heart”.

Firstly, Freedom Cry:

Now also available as a stand-alone release, “Freedom Cry” features AC4 protagonist Edward Kenway’s quartermaster, friend and actual assassin Adéwalé getting caught in a storm and ending up in Haiti. Finding the area filled to the brim with black slaves, Adé sets out to rescue as many as he can and undermine the slavers in the area, with assistance from the “Maroon” resistance. The story itself is quite short (it’s reminiscent of a less bombastic “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon”), the map is a decent size and nicely varied (One main town area, some jungle and a whole lot of ocean to sail), and the gameplay is largely the same, save for one main difference. That one main difference? A major part of the game is freeing slaves. Some slaves are working. Some are being auctioned. Some are working on a plantation, or being transported on a ship. Doesn’t matter where they are, they need saving. Essentially this is Catcher Freeman: The Game. Or, if you’d prefer: Pirate Django Unchained.

Freeing slaves is immensely satisfying and for me, is worth the price alone. It got to the point where I wasn’t getting missions done because new slaves kept popping up for me to free by murdering slave traders with a machete. They serve a gameplay benefit too- rewards are given for certain amount of freed slaves, leading up to free ammunition and better weapons. Speaking of weapons, Adé takes a different path- a huge machete for melee and a blunderbuss in place of pistols- it takes longer to reload, but has a wide spread and is powerful. Having said that, combat doesn’t feel different to AC4- it’s the same old “Parry and counter kill” routine, but then why would you expect something different in this situation?

Any negatives? Well, it has the same main problem as every other game in the series- the stealth is terrible. Fortunately there isn’t a whole lot of it, but it’s still really frustrating, particularly considering AC4’s penchant for tailing missions makes a comeback. The story also isn’t up to much, and the whole thing feels a bit insubstantial.

Worth a look? Well, it depends how much you want to murder slavers and free slaves. The map is a decent size, the core gameplay of sailing and murdering holds up well, and the new angle of an ex-slave freeing slaves is a great one. I say check it out.

Cold, Cold Heart:

Similarly, “Cold, Cold Heart” offers the same gameplay as its core game but with some interesting new tweaks and situations. The set-up will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen the Batman TAS episode “Heart of Ice” (If you haven’t, go watch it- it’s fantastic): Bruce Wayne is developing a business relationship with humanitarian Ferris Boyle, hitherto unseen villain Mr Freeze makes an attempt at Boyle’s life, and Batman sets out to stop him, along the way uncovering Mr Freeze’s tragic back story and his past with Boyle. Now “Arkham Origins” also borrowed from a major Batman story for its Joker origin story, but I feel it works better here. While playing through the DLC I realised that I do like Mr Freeze, but for me his limit is this very story: he’s a good villain while he’s attempting to (SPOILERS FOR THE DLC) find a cure for his terminally ill, frozen wife and get revenge for her continued predicament (END OF SPOILERS), but once this story has come to a conclusion he stops being interesting. Fortunately the story is translated to the Arkhamverse rather well, and is very fitting of the main game’s origin-story tone. It doesn’t hold any surprises for those who’ve seen “Heart of Ice”, but it’s still worth re-visiting, and for those coming to it fresh it’s definitely worth a look.

On the gameplay side, you’ve seen it before. The best and main new addition is the “XE” (Extreme enviroments) suit (pictured above); a hulking, “Court of Owls”-esque batsuit that protects Bruce from extreme cold and allows him to generate heat through his gloves. This is a very cool new addition, but that’s it. The game also opens with a playable Bruce Wayne section a la “Arkham City”, and it’s handled well. These two things make the DLC worth a look in my opinion, but if you’re looking for something new and fresh for “Arkham Origins”, you won’t find it here- this is more of the same with an interesting new situation and a badass new suit.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Last of Us: A re-review (Also a brief word on the remastered version)

(Picture taken by me via PS4 share. All rights of the game and the picture’s contents belong to Naughty Dog)

Well then. Shortly after its release I reviewed Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us” and, although I thought of it as a good, enjoyable game I had some issues with it: I had a problem with the pacing of its story. I didn’t care about some of the NPCs and I felt the game had been incredibly over-hyped. I played the game a lot more and ended up putting it on my game of the year list, but now the PS4 “Remastered” version is out and I’ve finished the game five times overall (four on PS3, once on PS4) I feel compelled to share my updated thoughts on the game as a whole. Also I’ll be briefly commenting on the remastered version over the original.

Firstly, my original reviews of the main game and its story DLC “Left Behind” (Included in the remastered version) can be found respectively:

https://thereviewingfloor.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/the-last-of-us-review/

https://thereviewingfloor.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/dlc-review-the-last-of-us-left-behind/

Anyway, the remastered version. The main differences here are the inclusion of all the PS3 version’s DLC (including the most recent “Grounded” difficulty level) and its graphical improvements- the game now runs at sixty frames per second as opposed to thirty, and generally looks sharper and more detailed. Now, I’ll freely admit I don’t know anything about frame rates, and my bespectacled eyes
couldn’t point out the differences to someone. However, I genuinely can see a differences here. The whole game runs a lot smoother here- both gameplay and cutscenes, and it’s a big improvement. The game looked amazing on PS3, but does look sharper and more detailed here, almost surprisingly so. This combined with all the included DLC, and the quality of the game overall makes it worth a purchase, even for those who already own it on PS3- if you own a PS4, you need this in your collection.

Right, now onto the main game itself.

Upon its release a how lot of praise was thrown at “The Last of Us”. A lot of people gave it game of the year. Some called it the game of the last console generation, and best game on the PS3. That’s a whole lot of hype, and as I said earlier- I didn’t buy into it. Having finished the game five times now, I have to say- I agree with at least part of it. It IS the best game on the PS3, and it’s definitely one of the best games of the last console generation (I don’t think there is a best game of the last generation- that’s far too hard to narrow down), and here’s why:

Gameplay:

As close to perfect as the “Action adventure” genre gets: good stealth with options and enemy reactions that are realistic but fair. Melee combat that feels weighty, brutal and satisfying. Shootouts that take into account people firing guns with experience rather than training, bullets making your character stagger, and limited ammo meaning you have to constantly switch your tactics. Speaking of which, the game offers choices so naturally and fluidly- during a fight you can (and will) run and hide, shoot, melee, stealth kill and employ explosives- each choice feels legitimate and switching between them is never explicitly told to you by the game- you’re just left to figure it out. Every enemy encounter is fantastic- as you make your way through the game you’ll use your various skills and crafted weapons in a variety of ways to deal with each situation in a truly dynamic way. Whether it be shooting, stealth, melee, explosives or its crafting system, it does every equally well.

Story: (Spoilers)

Having experienced the story start to finish five times now, it’s definitely grown on me. The moments I considered stand-out the first time around (the opening, the conversation in the house during autumn, winter, the ending) are still masterful, but I’ve come to appreciate the story as a whole a lot more, as well as more individual moments. The whole set-up of Joel and Tess’ relationship, then the rest of the game showing how Joel operates alone, with no backup (at least until Ellie gets a gun, which isn’t for a while) and nothing left to live for besides his charge is a great character study. Ask yourself at some point before the Dam level: what does he have to go back to? Every new character adds something different to the story, whether it be Bill’s paranoid, pragmatic approach to his situation or Henry and Sam’s optimistic but dark reflection of Joel and Ellie’s journey. The shift between seasons feels smoother now. I notice the small things in each area and they all resonate in the grand scheme of things. That ending run to the elevator, Ellie in Joel’s arms, is still a troubling, stirring moment, and the ending is still makes me well up. Put simply, the story is amazing, both in terms of broad strokes and its fine details.

Even if it did take multiple runthroughs  for me to see it, I know now- it really is something special. The gameplay is a fantastic mixture of different styles and the story is an emotional, expertly crafted look at a post-apocalypse world. It’s the best game exclusive to PS3, one of the best games of the last generation, one of the best games I’ve ever played and one of my personal favorites.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, and though it may seem petty:
1) They’re not zombies. They’re living people infected with the cordyceps fungus
2) People who say that the game Is/Practically is/Might as well be a film: Shut the hell up. You’re going to say that in a world where David Cage exists? Piss off back to whatever cesspool you crawled out of.