Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

It’s been a patchy year for Ubisoft, all told. Their supposed generation-defining uber-hit “Watch Dogs” turned out to be a mediocre sandbox game with utterly abysmal forced stealth sections, and this game- supposedly the next evolution for the “Assassin’s Creed” series in line with AC2 and AC4: Black Flag was, upon release, a bug-ridden mess of catastrophic proportions. But on the other hand, its titles “Far Cry 4” and “Assassin’s Creed Rogue” (unfairly brushed aside as “the other one” due to being released on the same day as Unity and using the same assets from previous games) are two of the best games I’ve played this year. Fortunately for me I didn’t play AC Unity upon release and instead waited like a bearded spider until recently, installing the most recent patch (6GB instead of its original 40GB, another blunder on Ubisoft’s part) and so having called attention to its buggy, broken state can review the game in its current state, as I experienced it. For those who aren’t familiar with my feelings on the series as a whole I love Assassin’s Creed and am the kind of person who can easily notice changes to the formula both positive and negative. I was reticent going into this game as “Rogue” made me firmly supportive of the Templar order and therefore not particularly interested in being an Assassin again, but apart from that I was looking forward to it, as I always do. Right, on with the review.

Set during the French Revolution you are Arno Victor Dorian, raised by Templar grand master Francois De La Serre after the death of Arno’s father at the hands of (SPOILERS) Shay from Assassin’s Creed Rogue, though this game never mentions that fact (SPOILERS END) but ends up joining the local Assassin brotherhood due to the indirect part he played in De La Serre’s murder. Now, the first thing that’s apparent in the story is that it really wants to be “Assassin’s Creed 2”- similar protagonists, similar thirst for vengeance, similar involvement with the Assassins in an attempt at redemption. There are, however, two big problems with the story. The first is that it isn’t AC2 and Arno is certainly no Ezio- his attempts at being a charming rogue just make him sound like a pompous arsehole, and his apparent bond with De La Serre is never explored. The other problem is that it’s told from entirely the wrong perspective, at least in my opinion. See, De La Serre has a daughter named Elise, whom he raised to be a Templar. The story involves a coup in the Templar order with one faction being lead by Elise, but she’s pushed to the side so that Arno can steal the spotlight and solve everything himself. It would be so much more interesting to play as Elise- a Templar dealing with a catastrophic split in the order at such an important time for them (the revolution was started by the Templars, implied in AC Rogue to be in response to Connor’s work in ACIII), forced to kill her own partly out of revenge for her father and partly to set things straight- possibly ending as the ruthless new Grand Master. Instead she’s the firey love interest/sidekick- (SPOILERS) who dies at the end so Arno can have a bit of a moment) (SPOILERS END) -underdeveloped and criminally underused to her full potential- it’s a shame. Part of me thinks she was crammed into the game in response to the controversy surrounding Ubisoft not having female characters in the co-op missions, as her inclusion in the story just does not make sense. She should be taking on the lion’s share of the work but she isn’t. Arno’s part of the story does have some interesting ideas involving potential peace between the two groups and the consequences of him picking his own targets and acting without authority, but the aforementioned wasted potential just brings the rest of it down. The required future segments of the plot are now brief cutscenes with two annoying people I had no stake in, but they’re over very quickly. Oh, also, Arno can now see his targets’ memories when he Assassinates them, which replaces the traditional dialogue between protagonist and dying target of the previous games, and is brought up by Arno as a real-life thing he can do, despite the fact it’s never explained. It’s odd and out of place, considering the supernatural elements of the previous games are downplayed here (they’re still present, but not as much).

Gameplay is where things have changed quite a bit, for better and for worse. First up is the new free-running engine, with new animations, better climbing, insanely long-distance jumps and most importantly the ability to hold down a button to make Arno swiftly and safely descend a structure via whatever hand-holds happen to be present. It’s fast, effective and greatly appreciated, and although Arno can often annoyingly either stick to scenery or do everything he can to avoid touching the ground because the right trigger handles both spriting and climbing, it works well for the most part. Combat too has be redefined; the counter-kill system of “parry, then instant-kill move” has been replaced with a parry that, if done spot-on, leaves your opponent open to be wailed on like your sword is actually a wooden pole and then killed with a finishing move (which you can sometimes do straight away under conditions I haven’t figured out yet). This one baffled me a little- it does mean you can’t simply fight your way out of every situation which is nice, but at the same time it means that fights with three or four people can turn into an absolute slog as you wail on whoever looks open while rolling around to avoid gunfire. The most surprising and arguably most positive change to gameplay is the stealth system- which now features a cover system, crouched movement, and guards that get alerted individually as opposed to alerting everyone on the map. Hell must have frozen over because THE STEALTH DOESN’T SUCK IN THIS ASSASSIN’S CREED GAME. DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG I’VE WAITED FOR THIS? Ahem. It really makes a difference, and if this becomes the new standard for stealth in the AC series they’re on to a winner, particularly with some tweaking. A change that really doesn’t work though, is what they’ve done to the hidden blade: you can’t equip it anymore, and instead can only use it contextually, but it’s the ONLY thing you can assassinate targets with. So if you somehow alert your target during your approach you have to beat them to the ground (or do a finishing move. I slit someone’s throat and it only knocked them down for a while) then hope that the game will lock onto them so you can finish them. It’s a ridiculous, backwards notion that makes the assassinations very tense for all the wrong reasons- it desperately needs to be changed. The assassination missions are also made worse by the lack of checkpoints- got into the building, killed your target but got halberd-ed to death during that arbitrary slow-motion bit that follows every assassination cutscene? Well back to the start you go. It’s a shame these two big problems are there because assassination missions are set-up in a “Hitman” style, with multiple routes and methods of entry and murder, though I often just climbed in through a window and stabbed my way to victory.

Elsewhere there’s customisable clothing that offers new effects like reduced falling damage and increases the time it takes to be detected, microtransactions making said clothing harder to get because it’s so bloody expensive (dick move there, Ubisoft) and co-op missions, which I haven’t got around to playing yet.

“Assassin’s Creed Unity” is hit and miss, but with real potential. The story criminally under-uses who should be its strongest character and instead focuses on trying to re-do ACII with an inferior protagonist, the combat is more challenging but often unfair and the new hidden blade mechanics are awful, but the stealth is better than its ever been and the freeruning changes are excellent. There’s definitely fun to be had here, particularly for fans of the series, but it has real problems holding it back from being put on the same level as AC2, 4 and Rogue. Consider it carefully before buying.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Evil Within Review

I’ve had a pretty rough history with “The Evil Within”. It was first announced as a “Return to Survival Horror”, a boast that everyone seemed to take seriously rather than scoff at, ignoring that horror games and indeed survival horror haven’t gone anywhere. I’ve been pissing and moaning about that since it was first announced until about a week before the game’s release when I started to look forward to the game as an action-horror in the “Resident Evil 4” mold. It’s made by Shinji Mikami, you see, and with that pedigree come real expectations. Are those expectations met? Is it actual survival horror, or is it a solid action-horror? Is it even any good?

The story is a mess. You are Sebastian Castellanos, a crap detective in a waistcoat who looks like Jaime Lannister investigating a violent situation at Beacon Mental Hospital with his partner, a man in glasses and stylin’ leather gloves and a woman who responds to violent situations in high heels because I can only assume she never has to run around when she’s on a case. Upon reaching the asylum Sebastian is captured, escapes from a man with a chainsaw because there’s always one in these situations, then there’s a scene where an ambulance does its best “Alone in the Dark” impression and Seb finds himself stranded in some spooky woods. The plot revolves around a man named Ruvik, whose assorted memories make up the levels as you trawl through his mind and encounter his past in the form of flashbacks and enemies that reflect his psyche like a crap version of “Silent Hill”. The biggest problem this raises is that all the locations in the game are jumbled up and crammed together with little to no continuity- it just feels like a load of set-pieces crammed together. “You’re in the village from RE4. Now you’re in a hospital, ooh, now you’re in the MINE from RE4, oh hey, the mansion from RE1! NO TIME, NOW YOU’RE IN A FLOODED CITY WATCH OUT FOR THAT FISH MAN THING!” the game takes no time to establish its locations, nor does it offer any juxtaposition in its scenes- you’re just thrown into areas full of enemies that you’ve seen in another, better game. Certain locations are well designed, particularly the mental ward you return to periodically to save the game and level up, but most of them are either generic or ripped from Resident Evil 4. The characters are all bland and undeveloped apart from Ruvik, who’s just dull, plot points are introduced and never touched upon again, and the whole thing ends on a vague conclusion that doesn’t explain the events leading up to it or put it into any greater context. The ideas of being trapped inside the mind of a scarred individual and negotiating a landscape that’s prone to changing on a whim are interesting, but they’re poorly done here, and end up being annoying.

Gameplay is a mixed bag. On the one hand there is fun to be had- it controls like a mix of RE4 and “The Last of Us”, and when the game isn’t being incredibly unfair and borderline broken it can be quite intense. Those moments are in the minority though. Before going any further I have to say- this is not a survival horror game. It’s an action-horror- over the shoulder aiming, locational damage, a big, dumb melee attack, sections in which you have to hold of hordes of enemies or kill a certain number to advance, quick time events and huge action set-pieces. Which leads me to inquire: if this is “Bringing back Survival Horror” then what exactly is it bringing back? If this is survival horror than so are all three Dead Space games, RE 4, 5 and 6 and indeed The Last of Us. I genuinely don’t understand why people think this is A) Survival Horror and B) Some real return to the genre. I’ve come to the conclusion that “Survival Horror” refers to the old-school Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, and things like “Dino Crisis”, but not games like this. But I digress- the combat here is often infuriating. Bullets are scarce- enemies can drop whole boxes of ammo with four loose bullets next to them and yet the pick-up gives you two rounds. You can often get into an unavoidable fight and the game simply doesn’t provide enough ammo for you to beat it. Now you may be thinking “But James, you scrub, surely you should conserve your ammo more and rise to the challenge?” and to you I say: conserving supplies is utterly negated when bullets simply don’t work, and your melee attack couldn’t knock over a baby with an inner-ear infection. The former is split into two camps: enemies absorbing ridiculous amounts of damage for no reason- whole clips, explosives, the lot- or the game simply refusing to acknowledge you’ve hit an enemy, even if your cursor is right over their body or head. So no, it isn’t about conserving ammo, it’s about hoping that the game will hold itself together, which is made trickier by its refusal to adhere to any kind of consistent internal logic. Sometimes enemies are made to be far too powerful- enemies may grab you or hit you despite the fact you were well out of their range, and sometimes instead of giving you the chance to escape with a QTE the game instead makes you tank the damage and tells you to deal with it. There’s an enemy late in the game with a one-hit kill attack that tracks you, is very quick and doesn’t slow down or stop for several seconds. The artificial difficulty is compounded by inconsistent, often poor checkpoints- a lot of situations will involve a simple but time-consuming part followed by a section that kills you quickly after giving you a very short amount of time to escape, then sends you right back to the beginning of that first part. Also Sebastian’s melee attack looks ridiculous- he does this huge lunging punch like he’s a drunk anime character trying to start a fight in a pub. Most enemies either completely ignore it, or take minimal damage.

Are there actually any good things about the game? Well as I said when it’s not being unfair or annoying the gameplay is solid and enjoyable enough. A genuine stand-out is the first fight with “The Keeper”- the safe-headed monster featured heavily in the marketing material for the game- a tense fight in which he continues to regenerate as you attempt to escape from an area filling with posion gas. Unfortunately the game keeps bringing him back to the extent that his effect is greatly diminished, but he’s cool for that first big fight. The enemy design is interesting, particularly the horde enemies filled with spikes or wrapped in barb wire, and some of the bosses. Unfortunately every time your head breaks the surface you realise that the gameplay was done better in RE4 and TLOU, and this is nothing special.

So then, “The Evil Within” has a whole lot of problems. The story is a jumbled mess of locations with little continuity, the characters are uniformly uninteresting, and when the gameplay isn’t being unfairly difficult and borderline broken it’s been done better elsewhere. If you absolutely must have a new action-horror game in the vein of “Dead Space 2” and “Resident Evil 4” then there is fun to be had here and it does have some cool ideas, but everyone else is better off leaving this one be.

Oh, and if you’re playing it on a console you’re stuck with thick black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, causing the entire game to be viewed in letterbox. Make of that what you will; sometimes I thought it was alright, most of the time I thought it was a crap idea that was just pointless.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Far Cry 4 Review

“Far Cry” is a series I’ve had inconsistent results with at best. I had “Instincts” back in the day and had some fun with it, I thought Far Cry 2 was complete shite (much like most people) and opinions on Far Cry 3 seem to be split into two camps: Me and everyone else. Before release I was drawn into buying it by talk of a gripping story in which vacuous dickhead Jason Brody starts off as a panicky tourist but gradually turns into a confident, bloodthirsty killer in a dark, harrowing character arc. What I got was vacuous dickhead Jason Brody being a panicky tourist for all of one mission before he instantly gains the ability to clear out a whole camp of pirates armed only with a colt .45, moving on to expertly take down pirates with a bolt-action sniper rifle and from there generally showing no remorse for his actions and rolling with everything that happens. I liked main villain “Vaas” for the seventeen minutes he was in the game and I liked the gameplay but overall I found it disappointing. So when Far Cry 4 rolled around and once again showed off a charismatic villain tormenting a foreigner inexperienced in the field of murder I was skeptical, but intrigued by what I’d heard. Does it make the series finally something worth playing? Or does it continue the trend?

This time around you’re Ajay Ghale- born in the Himalayan country of Kyrat but raised in America from age three who returns to his homeland to scatter his mother’s ashes, the only instruction being “Take me back to Lakshmana”. As soon as he makes it over the border he’s stopped and kidnapped by Kyrat’s flamboyant and explosively violent King Pagan Min, who appears to know Ajay and his mother, but doesn’t explain how. Ajay then escapes with the help of revolutionary group “The Golden Path”, started by Ajay’s father Mohan and currently attempting to stop Pagan. The story’s biggest problem is the way it’s told- it ebbs and flows with certain parts coming across as strong set-pieces and others slipping by underwhelmingly. Pagan’s three lieutenants get barely any screen time and are dispatched quickly and without much in the way of fanfare (apart from one rather brutal stand-out moment) but the main conflict between the two leaders of The Golden Path stays gripping throughout. Two would-be leaders are fighting for control- Amita, a woman determined to tear down the out-dated traditions stifling Kyrat and willing to use vast quantities of drug money to fund their rebellion and Sabal, a traditionalist who believes returning to Kyrat’s religious roots is the way to go. Often during missions you’ll have to pick between their two plans to determine the direction the story will take, and it’s handled well. Unfortunately like Vaas in the last game Pagan Min is barely in the game, making only four on-screen appearances (technically five but one of them involves his body double) and mostly interacting with Ajay over the radio. It’s a shame because he’s a really interesting character- his rise through the ranks of the Triads (he’s a half-English Colonial Hong Kong national), his participation in the Kyrati civil war and his brutal power-grab are only touched upon briefly, as is his relation to Ajay besides one big plot revelation at the end of the game. This does make sense though- if Vaas was Darth Vader (high-ranking but still heavily involved in skirmishes and empire activity) Pagan Min is the Emperor- overseeing events from afar while running his Kingdom, and trying to convert Ajay to his side. It makes sense plot-wise why he doesn’t turn up much, but his absence is felt every time he does pop up in all his pink-suited glory. Ajay himself is pretty bland as a character, but given the plot points I can’t explain for spoiler reasons, it’s not really his story- he’s there to give the player a way in, and to be a lynch pin in the plans of the real key characters- Amita, Sabal and Pagan Min. There’s also a side-story involving an ancient Kyrati warrior seeking Shangri-La that is good while it lasts but doesn’t really add anything to the main plot.

The gameplay side of things is largely the same as Far Cry 3, but with some great new additions I’ll elaborate on shortly. Firstly for those who didn’t play FC3, this is a first person open-world shooter in the now standard Ubisoft mold of a big map with towers that you have to climb to clear parts of the map and show off points of interest in the area. There are cars to drive as well as hang gliders and the newly added elephants and gyro copters, side-quests involving a lot of murder and the story missions all involve a lot of shooting. As for the new additions, there are the aforementioned gyro-copters and elephants, the latter of which are great for clearing out obstacles or groups of goons and the former is infinitely useful for pretty much every situation, particularly if you have the one-handed grenade launcher. You can now fire any sidearm (including the aforementioned grenade launcher) while driving any vehicle which is supplemented by more streamlined driving controls and a new “Auto drive” feature and there’s now a vehicle takedown in which Ajay leaps into the enemy’s vehicle, stabs them in the neck and commandeers said vehicle. Speaking of which certain skills are locked until you complete an action related to said skill, which helps explains Ajay’s natural killing talent (according to the wiki he was in the military, and personally I believe his skills are partly tied into who his parents were. It sounds dumb but it worked for me). Elsewhere there’s a grappling hook used to scale cliffs and safely lower yourself into caves and the like, as well as swinging across gaps like Indiana Jones, and new weapons including an automatic, silent crossbow for stealth and “Signature Weapons” (expensive, unlockable guns decked out with several modifications) including an MG42 (which is supposed to be a mounted machine gun) with a scope and extra-powerful ammo that turned the last mission into the M60 from “Commando”- holding down the trigger for a few seconds killed anything and everything, including helicopters. The gameplay is the same solid, enjoyable mix of tight, responsive shooting and decent stealth with all of the excellent new additions resulting in it being a lot more fun and over the top than FC3, combing modern sensibilities with a more old-school sense of action.

Overall, “Far Cry 4” is a damn good time. The story can be underwhelming at times, but for the most part is interesting, gripping and with interesting characters and with a great ending that puts everything that came before it into a new perspective. The gameplay is a solid, responsive first person shooter with a whole load of new stuff thrown in that make the game more fun and evolve the formula considerably from FC3. This and “Assassin’s Creed Rogue” show that Ubisoft do still know what they’re doing even if they do badly mess up now and then (Looking at you, AC Unity), and it’s definitely worth a look if you’re even remotely interested in the game, and particularly if you’re a fan of the genre.

“I came in a sane man and came out… like this. But you… you will come out a king.”

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Shadow Warrior (Playstation 4 version) Review

Last year Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog brought the world “Shadow Warrior”- a modern remake of an old-school first person shooter on the Build engine that was by all accounts very racist. What with my laptop being inconsistent but generally not great at running games I was pleased to hear the announcement that the new Shadow Warrior would be ported to PS4 in 2014 as part of Sony’s new “Port every good PC game to PS4” deal that I for one am taking full advantage of. Shadow Warrior came out, I finished it (eventually) and here I am reviewing it for you all now. Come get some Wang.

You are Lo Wang (as you were in the original), a surprisingly badass killing machine and huge nerd whose greatest talents are murdering people with a katana and cramming his last name into jokes (which surprisingly doesn’t get old). He’s sent to retrieve a mystical sword from a collector and, after murdering a whole lot of goons finds himself in the midst of a demon invasion. Teaming up with a bitchy, wise-cracking, amnesiac demon named Hoji, Lo Wang sets off to retrieve all three parts of the sword and kill every demon that crosses his path. The story is actually quite central to the game rather than being fluff to string all the killing together, and is surprisingly good- particularly the backstory, which is revealed piece-by-piece after tracking down and stabbing mysterious golems crafted by Hoji. The plot involving Lo Wang retrieving the swords isn’t as strong, but it kept me interested, mainly due to the excellent buddy-movie chemistry between him and Hoji, and the game’s strong writing; Wang’s genuinely quite funny in a Travis Touchdown sort of way.  It’s a long game, too, and manages to keep things consistent throughout, again thanks to the writing, and the solid gameplay (more on that in a minute). The whole thing reminds me of “Wolfenstein The New Order” as a new FPS with Old-school elements that has a surprisingly good story, and while Shadow Warrior’s isn’t as good as “Wolfenstein…”‘s, it’s definitely not an afterthought.

The gameplay though, is where Shadow Warrior really shines. It wears its old-school FPS heart on its sleeve- throwing hordes of enemies at you to be strafed around and blown to pieces. What sets it apart is the Katana; it’s always available to you, and is both efficient and really fun to use. While the guns in the game definitely have their uses (the bosses in particular) I always found the most satisfying approach was to wade in with the blade- lopping off heads and limbs and using its unique super moves to blow enemies into chunks or spin around taking off five or six heads at once. One of the biggest problems with the gameplay is that a lot of of the time the guns just feel unnecessary. I barely used the revolver, and apart from boss fights I mainly used the rocket launcher, switching to the shotgun or SMG when necessary which wasn’t that often. Sub-bosses are best dealt with using the most powerful gun you have because they’re all really annoying in their own ways (for the first half of the game the absolute bane of my experience were the giant Minotaur-type enemies that reel you in with some kind of energy lasso thing), which is a shame because you get the feeling the sword could be used for every situation in the game (pretty sure I heard one of the developers say that it is) but sometimes you’re railroaded into using the guns. Unique to the PS4 is using the trackpad thing to activate magic spells as an alternative to their default input of double tapping the left stick. When it works it’s fine. When it works. Which it doesn’t at the worst times, mainly when I’m surrounded and at low health, and instead of healing Lo Wang keeps raising his sword (using the same button involved in all the magic abilities) unhelpfully. That’s it for the PS4 features, but it’s something at least. The upgrade system in the game is fantastic, with three different areas and three corresponding currencies. Money buys weapon upgrades and ammo (a Four-barreled shotgun makes an appearance, though sadly not as outlandish as the one from “Blood Dragon”), karma (points that culminate in redeemable tokens, essentially) get you various learned techniques ranging from increased damage and stamina to finding more money in boxes and the ability to use the aforementioned Minotaur enemy’s head as a laser cannon, and Ki Crystals upgrade your magic spells, including the all-important healing spell, a shockwave and a shield generated from Wang’s left hand. There’s a whole lot to get, though unfortunately the spells and their upgrades proved to be almost entirely useless to me throughout the game. Other people may find more use for them but I only ever relied on healing, and finding new Ki crystals caused me to upgrade my magic out of obligation more than anything else (once I had all the healing upgrades, obviously).

Overall, “Shadow Warrior” is a good time. The PS4 track pad spells are frustratingly inconsistent but can be ignored, the story is absorbing and interesting due to good chemistry between its two leads, solid writing and intirguing backstory and the gameplay is solid over the top old-school shooting while the Katana adds a new layer of fun and depth to proceedings. It’s definitely worth a look, particularly as it retails at a reduced price, and with the help of “Wolfenstein The New Order” shows that the first person shooter is a still a genre to be reckoned with and taken seriously.

“I give it a seven on the Wang-o-meter”.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Telltale Review Spectacular: Game of Thrones Episode 1 – “Iron From Ice” and Tales From The Borderlands Episode 1 – “Zer0 Sum”

(Note: This review is in Italics because part of it randomly shifted into italics and wouldn’t go back, so I shifted the rest of it to at least make it consistent.)

Telltale (Developers of the excellent “Walking Dead” adventure game and “The Wolf Among Us”) made a pretty surprising move recently, releasing the respective first episodes its highly-anticipated new series “Game of Thrones” (Based on the eponymous television series) and “Tales From the Borderlands” (based on Gearbox’s cel-shaded first person shooter series) seemingly out of nowhere and a whole lot sooner than I anticipated. But I played them both and now I’m going to review them for you as a double-review, as they both signify something of an evolution in Telltale’s games, for better and arguably worse. 

First up, Tales From the Borderlands: 

Now, I’m not a huge fan of “Borderlands” (Reuben’s your man if that’s what you’re after) but I do enjoy it- I beat the first one and most of its DLC and played a big chunk of the second one, so I’m familiar with this universe and its characters but wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit for this one. Set after the events of Borderlands 2, you play as two characters: Rhys, basically a space-yuppie decked out with cybernetic enhancements who works for Hyperion, and Fiona- a career thief and grifter who pulls scores with her sister and their thief guardian. They both end up involved in a deal for a vault key (Vaults being huge, hidden lockers filled with unspeakable loot) and then a case full of money, drawn together through a series of explosive cock-ups the solving of which would prove mutually beneficial. 

Story wise this is a strong opening episode. Rhys is likable enough despite being a corporate stooge and Fiona is great as the dashing rogue type, and the supporting cast is bizarre enough to fit into the universe without going overboard. It’s a testament to both Telltale and the universe Gearbox created that a first person shooter’s world and continuity can work as a visual novel-type adventure game (more on that definition shortly) with strong writing and good characters, particularly when the actual shooting and massive amounts of loot you collected were integral parts of the “Borderlands” games. The episode is longer (or at least in more parts) than Telltale’s norm, and it packs in a lot of content, particularly for a set-up episode. One other thing to mention is that it’s genuinely funny, relying less on Pop-culture references (though that wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all of the series it’s based on) and more on really goofy jokes and cut-away gags. The framing device is telling their story while bound and captured and the story uses this to play with events, leading to some decent laughs. It’s certainly a lot lighter than TWD and TWAU. The only real problem here are the choices, which are a lot easier and less stressful to make than in Telltale’s previous work. Don’t get me wrong the choices are still welcome, but none of them hit me as hard as those in TWD and TWAU, or indeed Game of Thrones. 

I called the game a “Visual novel-type adventure game” and the main reason for that is thus: gameplay in Telltale games is generally a mix of conversations, QTE-based action sections and walking around to explore and find clues, but here that third part is drastically decreased to the point where it’s barely used. Now I frequently pick on David Cage for this kind of thing loudly, swearily and to anyone that will listen, but I really like it here. I have my reasons though- whereas David Cage is completely, thoroughly awful at telling a story and is a complete hack with no skill or talent for making video games, Telltale are excellent at it, and here the conversations, choices and action sequences come in rapid succession and do feel genuinely involving. It’s rare you’re not interacting with the game in some manner, which is important in a game like this. Apart from that it’ll feel familiar to anyone who played TWD, but with a graphically different interface and a robotic eye used to scan objects for extra information when playing as Rhys. 

Overall, this is a great start to a new series, with a focus on wacky humor rather than feeling like a horrible human being. It still has the strong emphasis on characters though, and shows Telltale is at still at the top of their game. Pick it up, even if you’re not particularly with the Borderlands series. 

Game of Thrones: 

Christ. This one was rough. Much like everyone else on the internet I love “Game of Thrones”. If by some chance you haven’t seen it it’s a medieval fantasy series with a focus on human interaction over the supernatural (though that is present) with a focus on strong characters, writing and brutal violence. It’s awesome. I will be referring to elements of the series from here on that will require knowledge of the show and will involve spoilers, so bear that in mind. Set during the last episode of Season 3 (if I’m not mistaken) you play as members of the Forrester family- loyal bannermen to house Stark who find themselves thrown into turmoil when their lord and his eldest son are killed during the Red Wedding. Ramsay Snow and new house “Whitehall” are respectively out to murder you and generally destroy you and take all your iron wood (strong wood used for ships and shields and the like) and in the capital Cersei is looking for an excuse to have you executed for being Northern. Apart from cut-aways including that aforementioned Cersei business, most of this episode is spent in the role of the new lord of the house, the young and ill-prepared Ethan Forrester, as he has to learn how to lead a house and all it entails in a very short amount of time so he can deal with Ramsay arriving looking for blood. It’s a heavy, depressing start to the series- Telltale has nailed what it would be like to live in Westeros as a house on shaky ground and under real threat, and the choices reflect that. Rather than having two choices that are clear cut, the ones here are messy, hard and will mostly either be wrong or make you feel like a horrible person. Just because you make one right decision doesn’t mean you’ll be any safer or more secure by the very next conversation choice, and this is particularly evident when up against someone who isn’t playing on your level (Cersei) or simply doesn’t care about any perceived “rules” (Ramsay). Whereas in “The Wolf Among Us” if you replied with a simple “Fuck you” or the like you could always wolf-out and brawl your way to a safe conclusion (provided the game gave you the option. The point is you were a badass who could fight your way out of problems), here one wrong move will end with you in a very bad situation, as you’ve got no-one backing you up and most of the characters are incapable or in no position to take care of themselves. Rather than go for a series of big choices with conversations in-between, the game makes everything you say really important and consequence-heavy, and it really works both as a game and as a story set in the “Game of Thrones” universe.

Gameplay is the same as “Tales from the Borderlands”- my points on it are the same as they were there. Though the choices are stronger here so it bolsters my point about the constant interaction being good. 

The only real problem I had was a technical one: during parts of the game the background was covered in a weird shimmery screen-tearing type effect that looked awful and really noticeable. Fortunately that was the only bug or technical problem I had, which is a big improvement. 

Overall, “Game of Thrones” and “Tales from the Borderlands” are interesting steps forward for Telltale. Some may dislike the more streamlined approach to gameplay, but I think it works in the story’s favour, and doesn’t make the games less interactive. They’ve got a Yin and Yang thing going on that I really like, and are both really worth checking out. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” then definitely pick up that episode, but I highly recommend both. I’m looking forward to seeing where they both go next. 

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18