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

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

DLC Review : Mafia 3 Extravaganza

Remember Mafia 3? It was my 2016 game of the year, which wasn’t an easy feat given the pedigree on display last year. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to try its three piece DLC menu since it was announced, and finally did so over the course of about a day and a half. For those who didn’t play the main game, it was a solid open world third person shooter, made worth playing due to its setting, story and soundtrack. Namely; 60s New Orleans, a biracial Vietnam vet Punishering his way through a city full of racist gangsters to avenge his adopted family, and all the period appropriate music you can think of. This was all layered onto satisfying combat and stealth, as well as surprisingly enjoyable driving, the result of which was an experience thats game of the year accolade I firmly stand by. Onto the DLC.

Faster, Baby!

First up is “Faster, Baby!” which, for better or worse, mixes a grim civil rights struggle with vehicular combat and a whole lot of chases. Lincoln teams up with Black Panther-type Roxy and fellow ‘Nam vet MJ to take down a racist, murderous Sheriff with a folder full of evidence attesting to his crimes. Why he didn’t destroy the folder is beyond me- you pinch it right off his desk. I get that he’s really overconfident because he’s a racist white man in the sixties and in a position of authority, but he understands how dangerous it is, and goes out of his way to get it back, so it does seem odd he didn’t just burn it. Anyway, dealing with said Sheriff revolves around this particular DLC’s focus on all things on four wheels, namely chases and car combat, of a sort. Traps have been added to country roads that, when shot, cover the road in things like oil drums and logs to slow down pursuers. One mission traps you in a car and involves trashing new location Sinclair Parish and shooting anything that explodes. Staying in the car when it’s not mandatory is also encouraged, most memorably during a mission in which you re-enact the end of John Wick with a bunch of Klansmen. Despite the new gameplay direction, this is easily the weakest of the three add-ons. The aforementioned mashing together of grim race struggle and exciting blaxploitation doesn’t feel nearly as jarring as it could, though that’s largely due to this little pocket of story being over before it really begins; dealing with the sheriff takes up roughly half of a ninety minute DLC. Each add-on has a unique, post-story sidequest: “Faster, Baby!” has growing and selling weed, which is harmless enough, but not particualrly involving outside of driving around the map finding new strains to plant.

Stones Unturned

Lincoln’s old Vietnam mate and CIA scumbag John Donovan takes centre stage here, as the pair track down a man named Aldridge, who switched sides during the war, nearly killed Donovan and now has a nuclear warhead to his name. Much akin to how Lincoln’s adventures in the base game were reminiscent of The Punisher, “Stones Unturned” is this universe’s equivalent of the time Frank Castle infiltrated Grand Nixon Island, murdered a load of mercenaries and stopped the head of the island from detonating a Nuke. Once you actually reach said island the DLC comes into its own, leaning into its change of scenery and, thankfully, cementing (in my mind at least) that Lincoln and John do genuinely care about each other. There’s an attempt to make Aldridge sympathetic, with his declaration that the US government at the time is something of a cesspool, and that the NVA and Vietcong “Aren’t [his] enemy”, but it’s only brief, and doesn’t really have much impact. The unique sidequest here is bounty hunting, which is much, much less exciting than it sounds. You’re given a tranquilliser pistol and a Hawaiian shirt (optional) and sent after three sequential men who need to be knocked out, stuffed into a car boot and driven back to another of Donovan’s shady mates. It’s not particualrly fun, it’s not interesting, but it’s over quickly. The DLC itself, however, is quite good.

Sign of the Times

Rounding out the trilogy is somehow simultaneously the best and most disappointing. Basically, it turns out there’s a True Detective cult operating in New Bordeaux, Lincoln and Father James rescue a member who’s been manipulated and abused, then everything turns into that scene from Kill List. You know the one. The USP for “Sign of the Times” is the addition of L.A Noire-style crime scene investigating, though it’s very basic. Most of the time you’re driving to locations historically racked with great tragedy, photographing a few things and examining the odd corpse, then blowing away cultists. The gunfights and skulking around creepy locations that make up the bulk of the add-on work well, and the detective work is a nice idea, albeit shallow and rather brief. The main issue I have is that this doesn’t really fit into the world and narrative established in the base game, despite being canon. It feels like standalone Halloween content, like that inFAMOUS 2 DLC where you’re a vampire, but instead is now a real part of Lincoln’s story. It’s not all bad though, the bond Lincoln forms with Anna (the cultist he rescues) is endearing, and it’s nice to see him work directly with Father James. The sidequest for this one is easily the best, and goes along way to making it the best of the three: rebuilding Sammy’s bar. After all the shit it went through in the main game, as well as being used a human sacrifice site in this DLC, Lincoln and his aunt can spend money to fix up the place, hire new staff, expand to different floors and the like, as well as instal tributes to Sammy, Ellis and Perla. Something like this deserves to be in the main game, but as it stands it makes the DLC worth playing, as a lovely bonus once you’ve dealt with the cult.

Overall the Mafia 3 DLC is solid, if uninspired. The new additions are largely superfluous, but are occasionally excellent, and the main body of each add-on is, when it boils down to it, more Mafia 3, which is always a good thing. None of it reaches the heights of the base game, but if you enjoyed that, this is worth getting.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

 

Yakuza Kiwami Review

Yakuza Kiwami is a charming romantic comedy about an eccentric, one-eyed Polymath trying to capture the heart of his one true love; the toughest man and number one hot Dad in Japan. There’s also something about a little girl, ten billion yen in missing Yakuza funds and a murdered Yakuza patriarch, but that’s all secondary at best. What’s important is Goro Majima’s tale of love, longing and the lessons we can learn from it: always follow your dreams, and never give up on love.

It’s a bumper year for fans of this series: Yakuza Zero provided engaging, illuminating backstory for Majima and set up Akira Nishkiyama as a decent bloke ahead of his heel-turn in this game. Now, only a few months later comes a remake of the original PS2 game, for better and worse, as it turns out. For now I’ll just say that I’ve been looking forward to this, I’m thrilled the series continues to be localised, and I’m really hyped for both Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2. For the uninitiated Yakuza is a series of games that’s part deep, serious crime drama, part exquisitely brutal beat-em-up with RPG elements, and part batshit, weird minigames and substories off the beaten path. I’ve a deep fondness for the series and if all started with the original on PS2, which I never got around to finishing. Unfortunately as good as this game as a whole and as a remake is, it highlights a real issue with Yakzua Zero; namely series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s side of the story. Everything that happened in Kiryu’s story has literally no effect on the plot of Kiwami. There are cutscenes new to this version to strengthen the ties between the two games, but they almost exclusively show Akira Nishkiyama’s transition from Kiryu’s sworn brother to primary antagonist and whiny, slimy villain throwing away his entire life to become a Yakuza big shot. That works though, Nishki’s journey from good to villainous is understandable and even relatable to an extent, and his personal link to Kiryu makes him a solid big bad, particularly in early scenes when his backstory hasn’t been explained and he lurks in the background smirking at Kiryu. The story itself is decent, and wisely focuses on Kiryu and his adopted family, all of whom are connected to the missing money and the violent pursuit of both it and Haruka, a little girl directly tied to it somehow. It lacks the emotional punch of Majima’s plot in Zero, but it holds up well, and personally I think it’s a far superior introduction to Kiryu than Zero was.

So what’s new for the remake? Well it’s on the new engine debuted with the previous game and the voice acting is now all in Japanese to bring it in line with previous games. There are new cutscenes, minigames and substories, the multiple fighting stances from Zero return, with Kiryu’s mainstay fighting style requiring work to unlock all its moves and buffs. Most of said moves and buffs directly tie into the game’s biggest new addition: Majima Everywhere. I cannot stress how much I frankly adore this system. Having shed his reasonable, measured approach in favour of the “Mad Dog of Shimano” persona we all know and love, Majima is now determined to make Kiryu regain his immense strength and skill, it having been dulled by ten years in prison. He does this by hiding around town, wandering around town and having a subordinate lure Kiryu to certain places, all so the two of them can fight. He hides in bins, crouches behind cars, dresses as a police officer so he can search you, pops up behind you at restaurants and various entertainment venues; he’s completely dedicated to keeping you on your toes. At one point he stages a zombie apocalypse at great expense to himself, and gets a load of his men in the act. As far as I’m concerned, this is canon: during the events of the original Yakuza Goro Majima and the Majima family dropped everything else and spent all their time, effort and money surprising and fighting Kiryu to make him stronger. Not only is Majima a joy to fight, and it has the benefit of unlocking new techniques, the writing for all of his scenes is hilarious, and filled with a frankly impressive amount of innuendo double intended to the point that I’d be surprised if the dev team came out and said that Majima ISN’T madly in love with Kiryu. This is easily the most fun I had with the game, and I’m glad Sega capitalised on all the good will they’ve built up with Majima over the years, especially after Zero. Everything else is at good as it’s ever been; combat is still fun and satisfying, the story and its delivery is still gripping and impactful, and all the weirdness is still enjoyable.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the other games in the series, this is a no-brainer, especially for the discount retail price. If you’re new to the series this is the best place to start; see where it all began, get a feel for the series, then if you enjoy it play Zero while you wait for Kiwami 2 to be released. The new features are largely great apart from a new drawn-out side quest right at the beginning, Majima everywhere is inspired and overall I had a damn good time with the game.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

P.S Sega put out a survey asking what people like about the game, which goes on to ask how interested you are in future projects and seeing those projects localised, with specific reference to Kiwami 2 and the Hokuto no Ken game recently announced. It’d do me and every other fan of the series a real solid if you could take a look at it- Sega have said that interest and sales over here have made an actual difference, so it is worth your time. Thank you kindly

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScaE21WJ-iKMNaV1HN9KFqP2xToutQQgfoCW5lsAoxsmGcWjw/viewform

 

Netflix Death Note Review

The Netflix original American Death Note is finally upon us. It took a lot of flak for, among other things, whitewashing, having a black man play L and generally looking shite (depending on your viewpoint), but personally I was rather looking forward to it. I enjoyed the anime but I’m not a diehard fan of it by any means, having the cast be white Americans didn’t bother me (if you want an all-Asian version that exists already) and I took quite a shine to the new L, despite his potentially weak disguise game. I wasn’t expecting it to be a masterpiece, but as long as it was decent I’d probably enjoy it. Unfortunately that was too much to ask.

After a magic book capable of killing anyone whose name is written in falls from the sky, Light Turner becomes a vigilante serial killer at the goading of Death God Ryuk. Along the way he gains the help of fellow student and girlfriend Mia Sutton, and after the killings become numerous and international he falls under the deductive eye of mysterious private detective L, who vows to catch him. First of all, Light and Mia are awful, both as adapted versions of existing characters and as character in themselves. Anime Light was a boy of sheer focus, immense intelligence and an alarming messiah complex. He killed everyone with a heart attack to instil fear and bring about a world in which he is seen as a God. This Light is a whiny dweeb who gets a few lines early on about how people don’t look out for the little guy, which is apparently all the motivation he needs to slaughter people. The heart attacks are gone, seemingly just so that the film can cram in unnecessary gore with which it swiftly grows bored. Here the moniker “Kira” is a name chosen by him to appear Japanese, and apparently means “Light” in Russian and Celtic. I am glad they put in an explanation for it, but it still seems a bit flimsy, and once it’s explained it’s never questioned again, and it’s never really mentioned why exactly Light wants people to think he’s Japanese, specifically. Mia’s loveable ditz routine from the anime has been discarded, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; this Mia has notable moments of real competence fuelled by a chilling desire to kill that outshines Light, but these moments are few and far between, and for the most part she’s just Light’s girlfriend. The love story is depressingly inevitable, begins within five minutes of them meeting and fails so thoroughly in its attempts to make you care about it that it adds literally nothing of value to the plot. Ryuk fares better, though it’s mainly down to Willem Defoe, who basically plays himself and does exactly as good a job as his casting would imply. Several times he’s shown out of focus, with only his glowing eyes giving him away; this combined with the film’s insistence on keeping everything regarding the Shinigami vague and unspoken make him quite effective.

L, on the other hand, is thoroughly battered. It starts reasonably well; Lakeith Stanfield gets the posture and mannerisms down, and has a slightly different take on the character, making him somewhat more self-assured in public, but barely restraining a flood of emotions that threaten to boil over more than once, and occasionally do. He doesn’t have the sheer length of time to show off his acumen afforded to his anime counterpart, but he puts things together, challenges Kira in a believable, understandable way, and maintains the disguise shown in he picture above. He is, for the duration of these scenes, L. Unfortunately the film apparently needed an exciting action climax, catalysed by a sharp departure from the source material involving a rule in the book being bent if not outright broken by the film and never commented upon. It results in L CHASING LIGHT THROUGH THE STREETS, ARMED WITH A BLADE RUNNER GUN. Said chase goes on way too long, as L pursues Light through alleys, diners and apartment buildings, in a scene I still can’t quite believe actually happened. He does all this with his face uncovered, too, and unsurprisingly this has consequences. I know L has quirks, and can do things a lot of people would consider irrational or strange, but the film has other scenes that convey this far more effectively, and without having the character do something so stupid and detrimental to his career. I can understand why it happens, and it’s not completely unthinkable given the series of events leading up to it, but as I said, those events are at odds with the rules in the Death Note, and to have L act so much like his anime counterpart in the scenes leading up to the chase make it jarring at best and detrimental at worst. It’s a shame, because alongside Defoe, Stanfield is the best part of the film, and he does his best with the lacking material.

Overall Netflix’s attempt at a Death Note adaptation is pretty awful. Light and Mia are annoying, bland, and neither likeable, nor truly hate-able as villains. It’s the bare bones of Death Note with gore, a love story and needlessly over-the-top action draped over. Despite what they have to work with, Lakeith Stanfield and Willem Defoe make the most of things, but they are all that the film has going for it. If you’re a fan of the source material, it’s worth a watch as a curiosity, and to see Stanfield and Defoe. If you’re new to Death Note, there’s nothing here for you.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18