Metal Gear Survive Review

Image result for Metal Gear Survive

Now, strap yourself to a chair and pull your tongue back far away from your teeth, because I’m going to say something that may shock you to your very core. Are you ready? Here goes:

Metal Gear Survive doesn’t suck. It’s actually decent, bordering on quite good.

I know, right? I was as ready to tear this game a new arsehole as everyone else, and the impression left by the recent open beta didn’t help matters. Konami’s Theresa May-esque insistence on barrelling forward with terrible decisions despite people insisting they aren’t on board has birthed a zombie survival game with crafting and tower defence that’s had the Metal Gear name crudely slapped on it. Much like the pelt of a beloved pet draped over a pile of broken glass and physical manifestations of ennui. Or so I thought, before I, with a sense of wearying inevitability bought and played the bloody thing. Making things worse were reports of staggeringly gross microtransactions, so I was all ready to play it for a few hours and bin it. Imagine my surprise.

Set just as Snake and Miller fly away from Mother Base as it’s attacked by XOF at the climax of Ground Zeroes, you are a create-a-character MSF soldier known as “The Captain”, sucked into a wormhole and dumped back out in “Dite”, a desolate wasteland filled with zombie-type creatures called Wanderers. That’s pretty much it for the plot besides some shady background stuff and a half-hearted plot twist, both of which are only important near the end of the game. The point is, you’re in the desert, you need to build a device to get back home, there are people to save and zombies to kill. Weapons are crafted from blueprints found throughout the world, fast travel points are unlocked by defending them from enemies to a time limit, and large parts of the map are covered in pockets of thick mist called “The Dust” that require a gas mask to traverse. The survival elements are one of the worst parts of the game; ever-present hunger, thirst and oxygen meters plague the Captain’s every step- undertaking one mission in the span of a few in-game hours will render her on the verge of starvation, and animals are hard to come by outside of designated areas, often on the other side of Dust pockets. Almost every time I finished a mission I then had to go hunting; not only does the hunger meter drop rapidly, it also governs the Captain’s max health. With rare exceptions there are no mid-mission checkpoints; die, which is likely for the first few hours of the game, and you’re right back to home base as if you never started the mission. The game doesn’t have much in the way of a supporting cast, and those who do turn up are all poorly written. One supporting character, an XOF soldier, actually stops everything to have an awkward rant about child soldiers, and how “Some kids have it really easy but these ones don’t, you guys, this is actually quite serious, you guys. It makes you think, doesn’t it?” It’s a far cry from, say, how child soldiers were handled in MGSV, which gave me pause in a way games rarely do. Story-wise it’s rather weak, and nothing on par with Kojima’s work. But then I suspect you knew that already.

So then, that was resoundingly negative, but I started the review with the bombshell revelation that the game actually isn’t that bad, so what gives? Well, once you start to get the hang of the game, how it works, the hunting, the lack of checkpoints et cetera, the game begins to show off the trick up its sleeve; it’s actually an effective horror game. Key to all this is The Dust; it’s dark, eerie and looking at the sky shows the texture of water’s surface, like you’re trapped in an abyss. Stamina depletes far more quickly in The Dust, there are enemies everywhere and the oxygen and stealth’s consumption of stamina means you’ll have to be quick, which results in a lot of desperate chases. The core gameplay loop of venturing out to find supplies, killing wanderers with the wide variety of weapons available and holding them off while you activate fast travel points is satisfying, due to the game using the engine and combat from MGSV. Lurking in The Dust is a huge, nebulous monster known as “The Lord of Dust”; it’s like something from The Mist, and it often just pops up when you’re moving around The Dust, usually on edge, low on oxygen and ammo having just delved into a cramped bunker full of zombies. It’s no P.T, but as a horror game it works quite well, and combined with that MGSV combat it’s a fun, if flawed experience.  It’s basically the tat collecting from Fallout 4 married to a surprisingly solid horror game with MGSV’s controls, and given how bad it could have been, I’d say it turned out quite well.

So there you go; if you ignore key gameplay mechanics and the story, it’s a fun little game that’s worth sinking some time into whilst listening to a podcast or something. It doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, and indeed I wouldn’t tell anyone to rush out and buy it, but I had a decent time, and that’s enough.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

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Back Down the Rabbit Hole – Far Cry 3 Revisited

Image result for far cry 3 ending choice

Six years ago, Far Cry 3 came out to the rapturous applause of game critics and punters alike. I, on the other hand, was only partly on board. I enjoyed the open world gameplay but found the story lacking, calling out what I thought to be a rushed, underdeveloped plot, a non-existent character arc for the main protagonist, and placed emphasis on said protagonist starting the game with a combat ability far beyond that of a normal, untrained human being. Now, having played through the game again recently, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong. Maybe it was my frame of mind back then, maybe I just didn’t pay close enough attention, or maybe it’s just time and a different perspective now, who knows. Point is, I agree that it’s something special, particularly in contrast to where Ubisoft has taken both its general output and the series since.

Interestingly, the game has parallels to the Tomb Raider reboot, released the year after. In that game a new version of Lara Croft starts as a fit, capable but otherwise largely normal young woman. The main difference here is that she has had some degree of informal training thanks to her ex-Royal Marine guardian, but in terms of actual combat and killing experience, the two are the same. After being stranded on a island controlled by a hostile, armed force Lara has to save her group of friends, putting her talents to use, adapting to combat situations and learning to kill, ending the game as a survivor and the heroic adventurer she’ll be in later games. Now, it hit me during my recent playthrough that the genius stroke in Jason Brody’s similar tale is how far his development goes beyond that. He hits the “embattled survivor saving his friends” stage about one third of the way through the game. See, Jason is clearly in a different story to his friends. His girlfriend Liza talks about how they’ll go home after all this and Jason can have a film studio job and everything’ll be fine, but every interaction with her irritates him; he’s spent his whole life a directionless hedonist and now he’s finally found a direction. That’s the final step in the arc: from Lara Croft survivor to a blood-thirsty killing machine, taking the story of an ordinary person forced to kill people to survive to its logical conclusion: that person is no longer going to fit into a normal, polite society. Going even further, Jason likes the new him, and about halfway through the game decides that not only is he going to stay on the island, he’s going to go and assassinate the crime lord controlling said island, a man he’s never met and has had no direct action or input on his life. He kills Vaas for revenge, he kills Hoyt because he wants to. He goes from normal guy with an innate talent for survival, to a Lara Croft/Nathan Drake style action hero, to a blood-thirsty, knife fighting lunatic. That’s the USP, that’s what I didn’t grasp six years ago- it’s not that he becomes a killer, it’s that killing becomes who he is, that he goes far beyond any kind of arc or hero’s journey. Imagine if Lara Croft or Nathan Drake could get to the end of their journey and then choose to kill their friends and never go home? That’s the only ending that makes sense, in my opinion. Jason spends days on end drugged out of his mind, slaughtering pirates and loving every minute of it, then decides that actually he’s had enough now and he’s going to go home? Yeah, that’s likely.
His ability to fight and use weapons and tactics are, for the most part merely a question of suspending one’s disbelief, something I found a lot easier to do this time around, for whatever reason. A lot of it is down to just doing it often enough, helped by Jason being almost constantly full of drugs, many of which bolster his already considerable skills.

I used to share in the opinion that Vaas was the far superior of the three villains, and underused. Now I believe it’s for the best that it works this way. The game is about Jason’s journey, so it works that the villains’ interactions with the player tie into that. Vaas arrogantly thinks that Jason isn’t anything to worry about, and their interactions showcase how far Jason goes- his successes somewhat increase and he kills more and more people until he finally kills Vaas. His death is what marks the turning point- that Jason no longer wants to leave the island, that he’s finally found his path through life. Buck strings Jason along, messes him about and is clearly irritating him, then a last minute betrayal costs him his life. Hoyt, despite being the overarching villain and crime lord of the island, is slaughtered by Jason along with a load of his men, because by that point Jason is so far over the line that no one can stop him in open combat. I appreciate the knife fights a lot more now, too. The game’s use of drug-induced, hallucinatory dream sequences is fantastic, and it all comes to a head when Jason imagines his enemies are far more competent and important than they really are, distracting from the fact that Jason is now a towering god of death, his greatest skill and talent being the ending of human life. The villains are used just enough for their true purpose; as visible indicators of Jason’s progress and journey. The player spends so much time with Jason, seeing his progress one kill at a time, then one of the main villains comes along to show just how far he’s come.

In regards to Ubisoft’s other games, and Far Cry as a series, I’ll keep it brief. Whereas say, Assassin’s Creed has become increasingly indicative of Ubisoft’s nightmarish obsession with busywork and bigger open world maps (not including Origins, which was a beautiful turnaround and a brilliant game), Far Cry 3 was a tight, focused experience in which the environment added to the already strong character development, and again, to Jason’s journey. Actually having Jason traverse the island, hunting and navigating the environment was all part of the story. Far Cry 4 did have some interesting ideas, with its alternate, best ending involving not actually playing the game at all, and the ending revelation that you’ve messed everything up for yourself completely necessarily, but neither it nor any of Ubisoft’s other games can match that path from normal person, to survivor, to monster, to crossing the moral event horizon of slitting your girlfriend’s throat and staying in this new hell you’ve made for yourself.

Far Cry 3 took risks, and they paid off. It’s dawned on me now, on the other side, that way back in 2012 Far Cry 3 was something special, it still is now and I’m glad I gave it another chance. Took me long enough.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

A Word About the Immediate Future

Just a quick update, as we move into a very busy season for anticipated games:
Outside of this blog I’m currently working towards a Master’s degree, and it’s entering something of a busy period. For now I will be shifting focus to that, and as a result will be avoiding all of the big, story-focused releases either already out or being released soon, things like Monster Hunter World, Far Cry 5 and Dad of War. Once my work is done I’ll get through the big ones, but for now I will be reviewing a few things that take much less time and attention in order to adequately cover, detailed below. Thank you for your patience.

Games I’ll be reviewing now (no change to schedule): UPDATED

Dragon Ball FighterZ
AC Origins’ Curse of the Pharaohs DLC
Metal Gear Survive
Batman the Enemy Within
Life is Strange Before the Storm
Wolfenstein 2’s Freedom Chronicles DLC

Games I’ll be reviewing soonish (a gap of two months) :

Yakuza 6

Games I’ll be reviewing after my work is done (later in the year, a gap of at least five months):

We Happy Few
Far Cry 5
God of War
AOT 2
Monster Hunter World
I MIGHT do Detroit: Become Human, depending on whether I can bring myself to give David Cage more money. It’s not something I’d buy to play for fun, but it might be worth reviewing.

UPDATE:

Reviews are essentially continuing as normal for now

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

A Brief Update

A while ago I briefly wrote about Nier Automata. Specifically, how I had finished the game once but was planning to do so again twice more before writing a review. I wrote that with the best intentions, underestimating just how engrossed I’d get in other games (namely Personas 4 and 5), as well as other work outside of the blog. As such I’m putting it on the back burner for now: I’d still like to write something about it, but if I do, it’ll be a “thoughts on” piece sometime next year. As for articles in the near future: Game of the Year list is coming tomorrow, and I’ll be reviewing Assassin’s Creed Origins, which I’m playing at the minute. Might write a “thoughts on” for the Call of Duty World War 2 campaign as well, because I’ve got some thoughts on that and few of them are positive. Anyway that’s the rundown for the coming days, and that’s the end of this brief update.

By James Lambert
@jameslamber18

Netflix The Punisher Review

I’m in two minds about Netflix’s foray into the world of Frank Castle, one of my very favourite comicbook characters. The trailers had me weary right out of the gate when they spotlit a CIA conspiracy being responsible for the murder of Castle’s family, as well as an apparent reticence to have the man himself appear in costume, a costume that personally I’m not a big fan of. Still, I wasn’t going to leave my main man hanging, and besides one scene I enjoyed his appearance in Daredevil season 2, so I gave it a go.

Cruelly, the first episode teases what I would want from a Punisher TV series: Frank in costume killing off the last remnants of the criminal groups involved in his family’s deaths, a sweet sledgehammer fight and a brief appearance from the Gnucci crime family. Two Homeland Agents who appear to be analogues for Detective Soap and Lieutenant Von Richthofen show up, if I hadn’t seen the trailers I would have expected an ultra-violent, vigilante rampage cherry picking the best parts of Garth Ennis’ sizeable run on the character. Tragically that’ll have to wait, because the remaining twelve episodes are an extended origin story of sorts, in which Frank and partner Microchip enact a drawn-out plan to kill the men behind the men in relation to the deaths of the Castle family, punctuated with the odd action scene, hampered by a woeful subplot and finishing on a burst of extreme violence. The A plot, Frank and Micro enacting revenge, is strong enough; the two have an unexpected chemistry, helped along by Jon Bernthal’s rather different interpretation of the character. Whereas the comic version is a man of sheer unflappable focus, cold and steely eyed but with a surprisingly active sense of dark humour, Bernthal’s Castle is a hot-blooded, emotional and personable berserker. He can laugh and crack wise, he can be caring, he can relate to other people openly, and when called upon to handle action scenes he throws himself into them with brutal, bellowing aplomb. He’s a man clearly ruined by his tragedy and wracked with survivor’s guilt, with a skill set and unending font of unbridled rage waiting to be turned on anyone who deserves it. Two scenes in particular at the tail end of the series go far beyond anything Marvel’s done before, including both seasons of Daredevil. Elsewhere the aforementioned analogues, actually named Madani and Stein have a solid dynamic of pain in the arse go-getter and “Let’s not piss off the wrong people” sidekick, though Stein doesn’t have all that much to do. Madani is the stronger character, acting as a driven, motivated voice of reason, dedicated to the pursuit of justice for an illegally executed Afghan police officer, and a much needed ally for Castle. The characters are uniformly good, the exception being the two catalysts for the woeful subplot I mentioned earlier: a phoney vet complaining about how the government’s coming to TAKE OUR GUNS and a PTSD-riddled young man who gets dragged into his bullshit orbit with catastrophic results. This brief look at the gun debate, the treatment of veterans and the epidemic of law enforcement shooting unarmed suspects are clearly an attempt to address or at least examine real world issues, but the rushed approach, their actual effect on the plot and the general way they’re handled mean the show is way in over its head, and none of it works. This ties into another problem the series has in that at thirteen episodes it’s too long; a solid eight to ten would have been enough, as it stands it’s bloated. Cut out the entire subplot with the two vets, focus on Frank, his targets and the two Agents on his trail and this would have been a tight, lean intro to a potential season 2 more in line with the comics. That’s not to say its actual form is bad, it just could have done with some trimming.

Overall The Punisher is a success, in spite of taking a detour from the comic. For the most part the characters are well-written and likeable; Jon Bernthal’s Frank is compelling and it’s nice to see him let off the leash and Madani makes for an interesting counterpart, but surprisingly it’s Micro who acts as the heart of the piece, his connection to Frank and their developing friendship being genuinely touching, to the point where I’d gladly accept him as part of the universe going forward. As a Punisher fan I appreciate this take on the character and his world, and I do believe if you’re unfamiliar with either you’ll still get something out of this. It could do with more action, all told, but I’m hoping Netflix will bring along a second season to handle that, where they can just write a long list of bad guys from Garth Ennis’ run on the character and send Frank after them one by one.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Cuphead Review

Cuphead (announced sometime during the Reagen administration) appeared to be (and indeed has been described as) a Metal Slug/Contra-style sidescrolling run and gun game, which combined with a visual style inspired by Max Fleischer cartoons and elaborate, exuberant character design made it look like one to watch. As it turns out, however, it is not a Metal Slug/Contra-style sidescrolling run and gun game. There are levels of that nature, but they act as snacky interludes between Cuphead’s actual bread and butter: boss fights. Much has been made of the game’s high difficulty and gorgeous, hand-drawn animation style, as well as some depressingly inevitable comparisons to Dark Souls, but is the game any good?

The story, as it is, is summed up in song upon reaching the title screen: Cuphead and his brother Mugman like gambling, see? They like to roll the dice, but they rolled the wrong dice in the wrong joint, and now they owe their very souls to the Devil! Happens to us all. In exchange for the Devil sparing their lives they must play the role of lethal debt collectors; murdering a variety of colourful boss characters in exchange for “soul contracts”, because it’s a 30s cartoon, and they were entirely unconcerned about potentially scarring people for life. The story’s just here to frame the action, but I like the whole “Don’t gamble, kids!” angle and how it immediately moves on to homicide, which is apparently all good. The Boss design is, for the most part, solid both aesthetically and practically. Despite mostly being a series of boss rooms, it does play like the genre it claims to take inspiration from; shooting, platforming, dodging and the like, all of which you’ll have to combine with an acute sense of timing and multitasking, because as publicised this game is bastard hard. I can only assume that’s where the Dark Souls comparison comes from, but it’s not an accurate one at all, bar the fact that both games are difficult. Scoring hits is so easy you’ll mostly be doing it on auto-pilot; the hard part is avoiding all the bullet hell projectile attacks, assist enemies and stage hazards to the point where actually focusing on the actual boss is a luxury you often can’t afford. Bosses have no health bar, nor is there any indication of how much damage you’re doing besides a rough chart shown when you die, which again means you’ll be focusing almost entirely on Cuphead and the many projectiles all trying to ruin his day. Helping you out in all this is a parry mechanic, in which pink objects can be double-jumped into (again with the proper timing) to gain super meter, as well as a series of useful upgrades and different shot types of which, although there are clear best choices, all have a use. It’s really tense, but usually in a good way: it’ll often come down to you madly dodging projectiles from about fifty different sources, when during a gap in the action just big enough to allow any cognitive process more involved than dodging and shooting, you think that surely whatever you’re fighting must be close to death by now. Then the words “A KNOCKOUT” fill the screen and you breathe a sigh of relief, feeling sufficiently rewarded by the defeat of a real pain in the arse with your amassed skill and patience. This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t feel cheap at times, it’s just that it doesn’t pretend otherwise, and lets you know early on that it intends to do everything in its power to slaughter you at any and every opportunity. The run and gun levels are a whole different beast; resembling a sort of hardcore “Rayman Origins” with no checkpoints; the same dodge-shoot-parry tactics as the boss fights apply here, but spread out over a much larger area, and with a vastly different sense of timing and context. These missions feature collectable coins necessary to buy new gear, and completing them all without killing any of the enemies contained within nets you the option to play the game in black and white, and with the audio altered to sound like it’s being delivered through a 30s speaker. This isn’t particularly noteworthy but it is a nice inclusion, and I feel compelled to mention it mainly because I actually managed to unlock it, which at one point in the game felt like a pipe dream.

Faring far worse than the entirety of Cuphead and Mugman’s on-foot adventures, however, are the plane sections. Here any weapon upgrades you’ve bought are useless, and the game seems to go the extra mile in how much stuff it pelts you with, which combined with the different method of traversal makes most of the plane fights quickly become irritating. On the flip side, design wise most of these bosses are excellent, and on the whole the game’s art style and sheer level of imagination is fantastic. Bosses all have multiple stages, which often result in vast changes in design and attack patterns, a stand-out being Hilda Berg; a woman-blimp hybrid who attacks using cloud formations of various star signs that then take corporeal form, and her final form is a massive crescent moon with her face in the middle that fires out space ships. The penultimate boss; a little boss run dictated by multiple dice rolls, is stopped from being a nuisance due to each opponent being a lovingly crafted reference to casinos, the best one being a stack of poker chips called “Chips Bettigan”. Chips. Bettigan. I rest my case.

Cuphead is, for the most part, a good time. The level of invention, imagination and effort put into designing and hand-drawing each enemy, boss and location pays dividends for the experience, and no matter how hard bosses get fighting them is almost universally engaging, and the quick restarts fuel a “One more go” mindset. Not everything hits the mark, but most things do; enough to warrant a recommendation if you’ve any interest in the game at all. Yes it’s hard, but it’s a rewarding experience, one that never made me consider leaving it unfinished.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

More on Persona 5 coming soon

So I wrote a review of Persona 5 last night, and looking back on it, it’s really rather vague. While I wrote it that way to avoid any and all spoilers for what I consider to be a genuine masterpiece, I will admit it might not make for the most interesting reading experience. That’s why I’m planning to write a spoiler-filled “Thoughts on” piece very soon; focusing on exactly what I like about the game without worrying about giving away crucial plot details, motivations and character development. If you’ve never played the game then read the review I wrote, but if you have played and finished it, or don’t care about spoilers, you’ll get a lot more out of this upcoming piece. Look for it sometime over the next few days.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18