Game of Thrones Episode 3 – “The Sword in the Darkness” review

Hot on the heels of “Tales from the Borderlands”‘ second episode is Game of Thrones’ third- hopefully signaling a return to a more regular schedule.

After the genuinely surprising revelation that Rodrick survived the Red Wedding, albeit in really bad shape, you’re in the unenviable position of having to take a more active role in what happens to house Forrester. His parts of the episode mainly deal with how he responds to increased hostilities from house Whitehill, whether that be submission or taking the “Wolf Among Us” route of needlessly punching people (which I suprisingly didn’t go for this time). I actually managed to do some role playing in this episode- changing up my own less reasonable, more psychotic playstyle for one that reflects the characters and what they would do, so bravo to the episode for that. The episode feels fragmented, however- Asher has the brief Cold Opening to establish something that pays off in the last few minutes and sets up the next episode, and Mira only has a brief appearance, though important. The Purple Wedding anticlimactically comes and goes in a heartbeat- Mira and Sera conveniently kept off at the side away from all the actors who don’t appear in the game (I’m not really picking fault there- I imagine they’re very expensive). This does lead to a pretty hectic, intense situation if you’ve made the wrong decisions though, and as I realised how much trouble I was in as everything began to spectacularly fall apart. Gared’s time at the wall has a decent action scene and some interesting character development, but if the preview of the next episode is anything to go on, the choices you make there don’t seem to matter much.

Choices wise there’s not a whole lot of meat here, much like episode two of Borderlands. Mira’s situation was resolved quite quickly and surprisingly easily despite my cock-ups, a choice Asher has to make didn’t lead to any long-lasting negative consequences, and Gared’s were pretty much pointless. The events taking place at Ironrath continue to be a bleak, challenging slog through desperately trying to keep your ahead above water- it’s the glue that holds all the other scenes together.

The one major problem I encountered was a massive sound glitch. Most of the music in the episode was absent, as were most of the sound effects- weapons clashing, footsteps and the like were absent, while voices were not, fortunately. This wasn’t too big a problem when I was playing as Mira and Rodrick- where sword fights weren’t likely to break out, but was at its most distracting playing as Asher- an encounter with Drogon (one of Daenerys’ Dragons) was made incredibly underwhelming due to said Dragon being completely silent. It didn’t ruin the episode, but it did spoil it somewhat.

Overall, a solid episode- some good moments, some interesting character development and the events taking place at Ironrath continue to be a depressing slog, but in a good way. It’s keeping the tone consistent while adding in its own mysteries and ramping up the tension, and I’m looking forward to the next episode.

By James Lambert

Tales From the Borderlands Episode 2- “Atlas Mugged” review

I’d briefly talk about how long this took to come out and how myself and many other people were hotly anticipating it, but the game itself lampshaded it so I’m just going to get on with the review instead.

Episode 1 of “Tales from the Borderlands” was a pleasant surprise. Of the two Telltale series starting at the same time I was more interested in Game of Thrones, but wanted to give this a look anyway. It was genuinely funny with great characters in an adventure story that did some genuinely impressive work creating a character-focused story from the continuity of a first person shooter.

Picking up exactly where Episode 1 left off, Rhys is now being followed around by a hologram of Borderlands 2 main villain Handsome Jack, Fiona has to do something incredibly squicky that’d be genuinely horrible if it wasn’t funny, and the group is soon off to find a vault, using the artifact they found down in the hidden vault. It’s not as strong as an episode as the series’ fantastic intro, but it maintains a high standard. Fiona and Sasha get some nice development during some down-time while Rhys and Vaughn take over comedic duties during another run-in with Vasquez, backed up by Handsome Jack, who is on top form. I’m not too familiar with Jack because I never completed Borderlands 2, but playing this made me want to go back and get it finished- he’s a great character, and having him in the background as a meddler unseen and unheard by everyone but Rhys adds a new layer to the writing. Parts of it do feel like they’re just there to keep the story moving forward, but it does take its time to slow down and show off the action side of things, with the stand-outs being an opening scene involving a Rakk Hive and a foot chase. The game maintains a solid use of quick time events, often in the form of having to swiftly highlight and click something in order to interact with it, as opposed to just pressing a face button.

Gameplay wise it’s maintaining the high standard, but unfortunately the choices are some of the weakest I’ve seen in a Telltale game. Apart from one right at the end none of the choices carried much weight, nor did they take any real thought to make. Maybe it’s because the universe is more comical and less severe than say “The Walking Dead”‘s, but even so.

Overall though, it’s a good episode. It’s nice to see Telltale trying different things, and they’re showing off their comedy, adventure chops. It’s keeping me invested and I’m looking forward to whenever the next episode is out. Which I can’t say about a certain other episodic game…

By James Lambert

Resident Evil Revelations 2 Episode 3 Review

Remember back in the Episode 1 review when I was uncharacteristically a bit optimistic about this mini series? What a fool I was. After Episode 2 took what little promise Episode 1 showed and pushed it off a cliff, Episode 3 Izuna Drops it into the ground.

Claire and Moira are attempting to track down “Neil”, who is apparently their boss, but I had literally no idea who he was. They spend their time getting swarmed by enemies while attempting to find fake pieces of liver to put in a statue of Prometheus because symbolism 101, I suppose. Though having said that I’m not sure what it’s supposed to symbolise, so touche, Capcpom. Their story is bland and boring, with an apparently emotional reveal tripping over itself and falling flat on its face (it’s almost funny), they have a crap boss fight with a not-quite-Tyrant, and overall their section suffers from the same problem as last week- limited ammo with too much combat. Also I’d like to take a minute to address one of this game’s biggest problems- status effects that cover the screen. Certain attacks can rend you “bleeding”, which makes obnoxious blood splatters alternately appear on screen like a child attempting to remake a Hammer Horror film, and the other, more annoying one is when you get hit by slime, and it covers most of the screen for several seconds. You can wipe it off with a certain craftable item, but you have to go into the menu to use it. Also there is literally no excuse for throwing a load of shit on the screen- it’s bloody infuriating and every time it happens I want to put my hand through my television.

Barry fares SLIGHTLY better. You finally find out why Moira doesn’t like firearms (though its slightly spoiled by Barry’s penchant for being a massive ham), his chemistry with Natalia (who is still not annoying, surprisingly) continues to be pretty decent, all told. However, part of his section involves lugging a big power crate between conveyor belts as pointless busy work, and he suffers from the exact same combat issues as Claire. Also, the invisible bugs from last episode make a brief return, and they are still unwelcome. His section has less story than Claire’s but they’re roughly the same quality, and he mercifully doesn’t have a big dumb boss fight. However while writing this I’ve just remembered that both characters end up slogging through a sewer.

Bad move, Capcpom.

Overall, this episode continues the bad trend started by the last one. It doesn’t have the awful comic relief, but it’s still a boring slog with bad combat that doesn’t understand that limiting ammo doesn’t automatically make a horror game good. Episode 4 is not looking like a last minute reprieve.

By James Lambert

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review

So Reuben recently wrote a piece on why “Hotline Miami” (the original one) is a great game that you should definitely check out (it’s just below this review, so you could go read it now if you wanted. It’s okay, I’ll wait.), and I agree. I reviewed the original PC version and then did a thoughts piece on the PS3/Vita port, and I love that game to bits. Its tough but fair gameplay combined with an ace synth score and brutal violence all wrapped up in pixel graphics and an ambiguous plot made it one of the most interesting and fun games I’ve reviewed. Then the sequel was announced. I checked out footage and new information when I could, but didn’t actively seek it out, mainly because I knew I’d be getting it anyway. It’s finally arrived, I’ve beaten it, and I am here to tell you people whether I thought it was any good. Just a word of warning first: I’m going to be avoiding specific spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about the game’s plot without going into some detail about its themes and tone. If you want to go into the game without knowing anything (which I recommend) I’d leave the review until after. At least the plot part of it. Gameplay part should be a-okay.

After Jacket murdered nearly the entire Russian mob in the first game, he’s been caught and put on trial, his story sweeping the nation and turning him into a “Natural Born Killers”-style pop culture icon. A film is being made about his exploits (that misinterprets them to a pretty slimy degree), a gang of copycats emulates his now classic “Burst into a building in an animal mask and horribly murder everyone inside” formula and a journalist with an honest-to-buggery handlebar moustache is writing a book about what happened. You play as a number of different characters with often varying playstyles; for example The copycat “fans” have a mask each that give them different skills, the writer knocks people out and unloads any guns he picks up, and sections involving a spec-ops soldier in occupied Hawaii have you switching between a firearm and a knife on the fly, picking up extra ammo from strategically based crates. The game jumps back and forth between each character often, and for the most part they fit in with the tone and story. The only one that feels out of place is Evan, the writer. His sections just feel odd given that he’s a writer purely out to do research and yet is willing and capable when it comes to bludgeoning his way through a club full of armed Mafiya goons. As for the plot itself, it’s easily one of the most bleak, nihilistic game stories I’ve ever seen. I can’t really go into why, but I will say that it takes the ideas of futility, hopelessness and pointlessness connected to violence established in the first game and runs with it. The way it ends (both before the credits and the main ending after the first few names) are gut-wrenching in just how empty and hopeless it was. It’s not for the feint of heart, and it does not pull a single punch. I’m not saying any of this in a negative way, far from it- I loved the story, and I love that it takes risks I’ve not seen before. It doesn’t give a damn what you or anyone thinks of it, but if you’re willing to hang in there, it’s rewarding in a very dark way.

Gameplay wise is where problems start to occur. Those familiar with the first game will find it easier to handle, but regardless, Dennaton have really beefed up the difficulty here. Rooms are now bigger and harder to scope out, with blind corners and a lot more windows. The game mixes melee focused enemies with big guys who can only be killed with guns, then throw in a couple of new enemy types that can only be killed with melee weapons, all the while having two gun-wielding goons patrolling the area. Also dogs. The dogs are back and even worse than before. There are three main problems that I ran into. First of all, the levels are bigger and so require more careful planning, but a lot of aspects of the gameplay are random. What weapons enemies are carrying, whether they’ll be close together and therefore easier to kill, whether they’ll completely ignore you or spin on the spot and cap you in the head from a mile away, often seems down to chance, particularly the latter two. You can clear out an entire floor but then not see a shotgunner hiding in a big pot plant, or a dog blending into a dark background will suddenly speed up and tear your throat out. It’s frustrating, particularly when combined with the game sometimes not reacting fast enough. Several times I pressed the attack button but the game didn’t register it so I died instead. It’s the “Dark Souls” problem- the combat is so excellent that any issues, no matter how small, are magnified. Secondly, parts of the game are just barely do-able. I wouldn’t call the game too hard, because I did finish it, but there were definitely sections where the difficulty made the game genuinely stop being fun to play. A few sections in particular where you play as (SPOILERS) Richter from the first game, whom Jacket stormed a police station to get to (SPOILERS END) were seemingly set out in the way that a bonus challenge level might be done in another game. It was frustrating and ground the game to a halt, at least for a while. Finally there are glitches. At one point one of the fans had thick black lines over her sprite like a cage, another mission had all the walls, doors and windows missing (I had to switch over to the PS4 version to beat it), and several times guards got stuck in doorways and couldn’t be killed, though they could kill me. However, I’m going to let this slide because it was made by two people and it’s just come out. I didn’t get any game-breakers, either.

On the more positive side of things, the shooting feels more satisfying and is better structured around the lock-on, although said lock-on still has trouble prioritising targets, and sometimes made me miss the right targets anyway. When the game isn’t being unfair the extra challenge is genuinely rewarding, and, much like the first game, the sense of style in the graphics, delivery and thoroughly excellent soundtrack make it all worth it. The game also automatically cross-saves between the PS3/4/Vita versions, which is a nice touch.

Overall, “Wrong Number” is excellent. It’s bigger, better and braver than the first game- more characters, more gore, better soundtrack, more levels, and a depressing bold story about violence, humanity and sheer inevitable futility. Misguided steps in difficulty don’t spoil a ferocious, rewarding experiece; it takes risks and they pay off.

By James Lambert

Reuben and I will be doing a video later on discussing the game in-depth, he’ll give his thoughts on it, I’ll talk about the Vita version, and hopefully by then I’ll have played around with the upcoming level editor.

Why Hotline Miami is Great!


“Do you like hurting other people?” such a simple question, but for gamers (mostly) all over the world it carries special weight. It might seem easy to say that you’re not a sociopath, but when you think about the number of photorealistic effigies you’ve gunned down, bludgeoned, immolated, pulped or just generally murderised in the course of your most recent gaming experience it weighs heavily on the mind. It’s also the opening and possibly most famous line from Hotline Miami, a game which came out in 2012 and proceeded to be the weirdest, most intense game about killing mobsters in 1980’s Florida to come out that year. And since tomorrow will see the release of a sequel, and because I’ll be at work all day and won’t have a chance to play it, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes this game so enthralling, and why it’s one of the best games I’ve never completed.

Firstly, there’s the presentation. The world of Hotline Miami is pulsing, vibrant shades of neon yellow and day-glo pink doused in buckets of pixelated blood. It’s a perfect example of a game not wanting to be limited by graphical fidelity, the world is rendered in simple low res retro style, but each level drips personality and every character model moves fluidly and smoothly. It manages to do more with 16-bits than most big game releases can manage with millions. It crafts a very particular world, seen through the eyes of a very particular protagonist. Jacket, as he’s known, is not a well man, his mind a jittery, uncertain, hallucinogenic mess. And right from the start, in the very first conversation our silent protagonist has with Richard, Rasmus and Don Juan (three shadowy animal masked individuals that appear at the start of each act to offer cryptic (mis)information), you’re shown the fractured, uncertain mental state of this clearly very damaged and damaging individual. Layered on top of the visual style is a haunting soundtrack of synths and old school beats, that drive you forward into the mouth of madness. You could very well believe that they’re the sounds of a lunatic mind as much as a musical score.

The violence, arguably Hotline’s most famous element, is pitch perfect too. All of the identikit enemies that populate each stage die in one hit from a weapon, leaving their mangles corpse at your feet as you step over them and move onto the next victim. It makes you feel powerful, and at the same time slightly nauseated to bludgeon one unsuspecting goon to death and then wait patiently around the corner for his friend to investigate the suspicious neck snapping sound before vigorously introducing his face to the nearest space of wall. But, just to stop you from feeling too powerful, you die just as easily as the enemies, which mean the slightest mistake means death. The area can be reset immediately by pressing ‘R’ however which means that you’re never too far from starting over, and this is why Hotline has such compelling gameplay. Each time you die you get a little better, and a little closer to your goal. Of course what that goal is remains a mystery.

Now it’s at this point that I must confess something. I still haven’t completed Hotline Miami. Terrible reflexes and worse hand eye co-ordination mean that I just can’t complete the final few stages. It’s exactly the kind of game I love, and exactly the kind that I’m worst at. But even so, what I’ve since looked up about  the ending to the game tells me I’m missing out. The story is just as perplexing and incomprehensible as you might expect, but deliberately so, in a way that leaves things open to endless interpretation and speculation. A very apt comparison would be the ending of No More Heroes, which is also a  bloodsoaked murderfest starring an unbalanced antihero. And Jacket is a true antihero, a character with potentially noble intentions who’s quickly derailed by the creeping insanity and the endless messages left on his voicemail. No gruff monologues, no visible self pity, only the endless driving force of his own obsessive need and the offer of employment from the mysterious phone voice who might just be in his head. And head stomping, he does a lot of that too.

There’s many reasons that I love Hotline Miami, and hopefully I’ll love the sequel for just as many if not more. One day I’ll write something about this game when it’s not late at night and I’m not tired, and maybe even have time to edit some video to illustrate my point. But for now, I’ll leave you waiting for the review that’ll follow shortly, which I definitely will write I promise James. And Shadow of Mordor. And some general articles. And video too, definitely. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check my voicemail…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert

Resident Evil Revelations 2 Episode 2 Review

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

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

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

By James Lambert