Will Preston

Video Games

Surviving the zombie apocalypse until season 5 – A look so far at The Walking Dead videogame

by on Jun.24, 2014, under Movie Pilot, Review, Video Games

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Right now, it’s the early autumn of the year as most of the great shows on television have their end of season break.

Mad Men has already polished off the first half of its final season and Game of Thrones is just about to squeeze the last couple of episodes out like someone popping open a man’s head (SPOILER ALERT – someone on that show dies). The Walking Dead will be entering it’s fifth season later this year, and it’s really starting to catch up with the original comic series, instead of lingering on a farm waiting for the barn to burst open (SPOILER ALERT – someone on that show is a zombie). If, like me, you are getting too fidgety to wait for the next instalment of the shambler drama, AND you’re a keen gamer, then the videogame adaption is exactly what you need.

(Continued on MoviePilot.com)

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Counting down the second Cold War

by on Nov.19, 2012, under Review, Video Games

Recently, I bought my first smart phone. Considering the first iPhone came out around five years ago, it goes without saying that I’ve arrived extremely late to the touch-screen party. The first time the high definition screen flashed up, I knew that things wouldn’t be the same again. There was a plethora of tasks and activities that I could now do thanks to the wireless possibilities of this £400 device. It was scary. But then again, the last technological advances of the last century have come by so fast, that you almost panic when you sum up how civilisation has progressed from using telegrams to viewing CGI-saturated feature films at a seconds notice. As usual, there’s the military aspect of it. If I can wield a supercomputer the size of a modest birthday card, what can the research and development department of the US military use to get rid of who they see fit?

Los Angeles gets bullet ridden

Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is a game of two halves, but it’s more than a five-a-side. It’s the first of the series to take place in the future, but it also has time to get distracted and look into the distance, reminiscing about previous real life military campaigns. You flick between Frank Woods, Alex Mason (both from the previous Black Ops) and David Mason – Alex’s son. It’s 2025 and remote controlled drones make up a majority of the US armed forces against the backdrop of an uncertain world trying to keep up with the technology that holds together society. China and America have entered a new cold war with a recently discovered (and extremely rare) material called celerium being the cause for such conflict. The earth element is used in all modern technology and has allowed leaps in technology, allowing such wonders as invisibility suits and personal heads up displays to be distributed as standard issue.

It has been a long time since Frank Woods fought alongside Alex Mason in Vietnam. An elderly wheelchair-bound woods is living out the last of his days in The Vault – what can only be described as a high-security nursing home. He’s visited by an armed platoon led by David Mason who questions him over his experience with Raul Menendez, a Nicaraguan narco-terrorist who leads the Cordis Die movement, a military cult with plans to bring down the superpowers of the world through cyber-terrorism. Woods’ past with Menendez spans back to the 1980’s where he was captured and tortured in Angola. This half of the game takes place in several late 20th century conflicts from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the US invasion of Panama (lots of invading!). But the game also flicks to modern (well, future) conflicts as well.

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

One of the greatest things about this new Call of Duty is the ridiculous selection of arms and equipment. The prototype rifles come equipped with x-ray technology, you have a grenade launcher strapped to your wrist and your personal computer on your other wrist can do anything from hacking terminals to recording far-away conversations a la Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher. Things even get a bit Batman when you infiltrate a jungle base using retractable parachute flaps built into your suit, giving you the appearance of a heavily-armed flying squirrel with stubble. It was at this point I burst out laughing over how far Treyarch were willing to make the future seem unrealistically ridiculous.

But just when things get too much (escaping in a Halo-style jeep from unmanned helicopters in a flooded city in Pakistan. for example), you’re whisked back to a more simpler time, where mobile phones were phones and nothing else. As both parallel stories progress, you are given a series of choices that will determine the outcome of the game. For example, at several stages in the game, you have the choice to kill or spare a character. Depending on what happens, different aspects of the final missions, and indeed the ending, will change. There are five endings in total, so it will take a few run-throughs to get the best ending. But that’s not all affecting the story.

Skynet, anyone?

Another first in the franchise is the inclusion of a series of “Strike Force” levels. These play out like a multiplayer match crossed with real time strategy. You take command of a mixed group of units (soldiers and A.I drones) on the field and can give orders and flick between each one via a remote controlled eye-in-the-sky satellite. There’s a single objective and you face a seemingly never-ending hoard of enemies. The aims of these missions range from base defence to assassination and can be pretty intense, seeing as you’re up against the clock and have only one chance to do them. It’s a fantastic addition to the game, but, like all the new features, seems too little too late to hide the fact that Call of Duty hasn’t made any major leaps or bounds since the first Modern Warfare was released. Other late features include complete weapon customisation before each single player level and the inclusion of a three-dimensional villain.

In the past, the villains included cardboard cut-out Russian nationalists (See Modern Warfare series), Ex-Nazi scientists (See Black Ops) and Adolf Hitler’s gang (See World War Two). All antagonists seemed to be nothing more than arbitrary bad guys with no more reason to commit evil than your typical Bond baddie. Menendez is a different case. Coming from a poor background and eventually forced into a life of crime, he witnesses his sister crippled and horrifically burned in a warehouse fire. After a botched raid on his personal village by a team led by Woods and Mason, his deformed sister perishes, leading to him seeking revenge against the US. At several points in the game you take control of Mendez, almost as a away of making you see things from his side, especially when you see him tending over his sister with a rich sense of pathos and regret. For the first time in the series, someone’s actually come up with a fairly adequate story.

Always with an evil beard

But there are a lot of moments where you feel like there wasn’t enough due care and effort to make this game as outstanding as it could have been. Predictably, the seems to be running off almost exactly the same engine as the first Modern Warfare – which was where the series reached perfection, but considering that was released in 2007, isn’t it time for Activision to hire someone to bring the series into this decade? Aside from the all-too occasional glitch, the single player hasn’t decided whether it wants to be a game or a film. Too many times has the game taken control over certain cinematic moments, as if it didn’t trust me to do the right thing. An infamous moment that stands out is the first encounter with Menendez.

After fighting countless Cuban soldiers and downing a Russian gunship from a moving barge, you find yourself sneaking through a forest and into a communication building. As soon as you step through the window, you sneak up to Menedez at his radio terminal, take him hostage, stand off against several soldiers before a grenade is thrown onto the floor and you’re forced to dive out the window. Not once during this little sojourn did I need to press anything. No linear path. No sudden quick time event to make sure I was still awake. Nothing. And there were too many moments where the game was ripped out of my hands and I had to watch like a good little boy.

Groovy...

And the violence. Oh, the violence. After the particularly dark introduction video where we see Menedez’s sister almost burned to death, the game get’s progressively grimmer. In the first level, you start next to an upturned vehicle looking into the fire looming behind the windshield. Suddenly, two deeply-singed hands bang against it, followed by the screaming charred faced of a man burning alive. It was a horrific sight that suddenly brought out that inner parent that secretly disapproves of everything you do. That voice that frowns at the ethically redundant things you choose to do in Grand Theft Auto games. You’ll know what I mean next time you watch one of the Saw movies and her dulcet tone mumbles in your ear.

After completing one of the five endings the game has to offer, there’s the multiplayer and zombie modes to bite into. I’ve played through the series since the beginning and the multiplayer has not changed in the last four years. The modes are all there, the upgrade and ranking system stands still like an old man confused where to go next, and the maps and speed make the whole experience as hectic and uncomfortable to play as usual. For fans of the series, there isn’t anything that can be really said for the online battles apart from, more of the same with more added on for good measure. I lasted two minutes into a match where a shouting American child yelled at me before firing a pistol across the room into my head. Instant kill. Instant quit. Instantly unimpressed.

What did impress me, however, was the new zombie mode. Sure, it’s the same system as it always been, but there is a new, interesting inclusion. As well as the typical survival mode, one of the maps has a sort-of mission mode attached. You’re plopped in a bus depot surrounded by zombies and you need to construct various tools and contraptions to proceed through the midnight nightmare. Once you escape the terminal, a robot controlled bus awaits you to take you to your next destination. What starts off as you’re typical defence against the living dead affair soon turns into a gauntlet towards what seems like a logical end to the game other than death by an infinite horde of shamblers. I was very impressed and it still remains more addictive than tobacco peanuts.

Sadly, the William Tell Overture did not play

A cheeky bonus was the music. Instead of hiring yet another big name film composer like Hans Zimmer, the guys at Treyarch went a bit metal and dragged on Mr Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, in to provide his superb brand of emotionally charged industrial noise metal to the game. I have to say that his compositions are really worth a listen. Another surprise was hearing Skrillex in one of the levels in a nightclub. bizarre. All of the pieces set in the future gave it a real cyber-punk feel similar to the recent Deus Ex. As a science fiction fan, I was loving every second of the soundtrack.

Recently, it’s become very fashionable to denounce the Call of Duty series before even playing the most recent titles. Most of the criticism is deserved, but there are still aspects of the newer titles that should garner a bit more recognition. On the other hand, Battlefield 3 proved last year that a long running first person shooter series can knuckle down and leap forward to deliver a perfect videogame experience on both campaign mode and online multiplayer spheres. Now that the Modern Warfare and Black Ops branches have finally fallen off the tree, will Activision finally raise its hands, stand with a modest air of honesty and finally admit that the series has nothing new to offer? After all, just about every single 20th century conflict has been handled in the series and I’ll be buggered if I have to play through World War bloody Two again. There weren’t any mobile phones in that conflict for a start. Or Trent Reznor.

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The chances of anything hitting spot on are a million to one

by on Nov.05, 2012, under Review, Video Games

It’s always an invasion. Whenever we glimpse to the sky and consider that we may not be alone in the ever-expanding black sack of a universe we were burped into, many of us can’t help but think that anything light-yearing its way towards our blue-ish planet won’t have the intention of stopping by quickly to ask for directions to Alpha Centuri. Or even an interstellar version of Bill Oddie making a makeshift bush on the moon and gawping at us with some kind of laser-powered binoculars while narrating our scutterings to a half-interested daytime television crowd. No. It’s always an invasion. Whether it’s a gradual integration akin to the John Carpenter flick They Live or the galloping tripod massacre featured in the iconic War of the Worlds, Aliens rarely tend to come in peace. Or stop by to phone home.

Google had their part to play, too

It’s the near future and Earth is being invaded by a mysterious alien force for the first time in recorded history. Rather than arming Jeff Goldblum with a Macbook and asking Will Smith rather nicely to fly a capture spaceship at them, mankind has already grouped together in secret to unleash the XCOM project – a multi-national covert organisation designated with the task of eliminating any alien threat to the blue and green planet we hold so dear. A council of international representatives has just appointed a new commander to the project (played by you, of course) who will oversee the development of XCOM headquarters, manage research & development projects relating to alien technology, as well as commanding a team of hardened soldiers armed with an offensive amount of weaponry.

XCOM Enemy Unknown is yet another remake of a classic Nineties game, but this time, it’s not being converted into a cookie-cutter first person shooter. The original was a combination of both a turn-based strategy game and a base management simulator – both of which have been respectfully preserved in this new edition. Your ultimate objective for the entire game is to repel alien invaders for attacking Earth. But it’s not that simple. It never is. For a start, this is a publicly funding project. Each nation on earth has pooled money and resources into this operation, so there is a bureaucratic numbers game that must be obeyed. If alien attacks in Mexico rise to an alarming amount with little intervention from XCOM, you’ll have to look for your monthly pesos elsewhere. Not only that, but you’ll regularly receive multiple UFO encounters in a single in-game day, putting pressure on you to decide which country least deserves to be left at the mercy of an extra-terrestrial force. Just like a juggling act, you have to think two moves ahead.

The Thin Men look suspiciously like Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory

The game is split into two modes of play. The main mode is managing your base as the days flutter by. You’re given a monthly budget to spend on upgrades, new soldiers equipment and anything else that contributes to alien death. Set up like some kind of bizarre ant farm, the base trails deep under the planet’s crust and is split into various sections. You have your hangar that allows the transport ship and your interceptor fights to launch out to anywhere in the world, there’s the troop barracks and, amongst the rest of the base, is your laboratory and your workshop. As the game progresses you’ll receive a large collection of alien artefacts, corpses and concepts for new technology. Your laboratory allows a team of scientists to examine your growing collection of alien junk in order to adopt, adapt and improve your fighting force. The workshop operates hand in hand with the lab to produce the new equipment. Before long, your team of basically equipped soldiers will be a heavily armed squad with flying suits and alien plasma technology.

In order to produce these wonderful, you will need to recover alien technology, as well as capture the odd extraterrestrial, in various missions occurring randomly throughout the months. At first, they’ll be basic abduction investigation missions, but as the campaign for Earth heats up, you’ll find yourself defending cities from alien terrorist cells, raiding downed UFOs and escorting VIPs to safety. Not straying too far from the original’s method of play, the missions take a turn-based structure. Each one opens with your VTOL troop transport craft dramatically landing into the theatre of combat with your team spilling out, guns at the ready. A fog of war prevents you from getting a good grasp of the area of operation, so care is needed when advancing the team as one wrong move and your recently promoted lieutenant could end up deep-throating a volley of plasma before being able to yell for back-up.

Different skills open up advanced tactics

The tense sudden death feel of the original has been replicated with perfection. You’ll see yourself losing your temper as an enemy instantly downs your well-covered soldier with a pin-point shot, and that’s just the first mission in and you’ve barely had time to admire your guy’s shiny battle armour. Thankfully, there’s a new system in place that keeps the game flowing at a good pace, so you’ll be able to lose your temper quicker. Each turn gives you two moves per person. You can use both moves to allow the guy to sprint, or you can play it safe and move half the distance, allowing you to use the remaining move to fire on the enemy, heal your team or stand guard. Sometimes, you won’t have the luxury of carefully marching your team out with care. If it’s one of the dreaded terror missions, you’re racing against the enemy to save as many civilians as possible. And I don’t joke when I say that you’ll be lucky to get a quarter of them out alive.

Rather than sending an endless horde of samey bug-eyed monsters at you, the alien army consists of different races working together. In the early missions, you’ll find yourself trading fire with Sectoids (your garden variety grey alien with shiny black eyes) and before long you’ll find yourself rethinking your tactics to take on the juggernaut-like wraiths known as the Mutons. Each alien species brings their own significant traits to the battlefield that require you to adopt a new strategy each time. One particularly fiendish creation comes to mind. The Chrysalid is an armour-plated quadruped that gallops across the battlefield like a Geiger horse. Rather than wield a gun, it zips up to people and slashes them with a fatal attack. Only once you’ve researched and manufactured the best armour in the game does your team surviving a close quarter fight with these spindly nightmares. But it doesn’t end there. Should a human fall to one of these ghoulish bastards, they come back as a zombie in the next turn that roams the game beating people to death before a newborn Chrysalid rips them apart from within, starting the unholy cycle all over again. Until you can kill the zombie in time, of course.

Built like a crude platitude

While the game is extremely immersive, there are a few glitches and problems that pop out of nowhere to spoil your experience slightly. First of all is the cover system. Well…not the cover system itself, but what happens when someone takes cover. When someone fires at someone in cover, the bullets tend to fly right through the wall. This glaring error is made more obvious with the added action-cam pointing out why this looks so bad. Maybe they have armour piercing weaponry, but it ends up looking like rushed design. Another problem lies the un-skippable moments of the game. Sometimes, the enemy’s turn seems to take an age while you impatiently wait for an entire team to scamper around the playing field before you can do them the discourtesy of stopping them from scampering anymore. many times I found myself chewing the keyboard in a desperate attempt to let the game know I’m losing my patience. Long-time XCOM fans will be disgruntled to hear that the panic system is still in play. Should a member of your team become intimidated or witness the quick death or a comrade, there’s a chance they’ll lose their grip on the mission and throw a sissy fit that results in them either running in panic with arms waving, or firing wildly in the vague direction of combat. If the latter happens, sometimes fate smiles upon you and an enemy is accidentally killed. Other times, your stressed rookie shoots the highest ranking member of the squad in the face. And that’s IF your guy hits anything, as each shot has a percentage chance of hitting anything. Too many times have I seen a soldier get the drop on an alien, only to shoot wide despite being close enough to cuddle it. It’s all the luck of the draw in the end.

XCOM Enemy Unknown is a lovingly re-imagined game that pays a great deal of homage to the DOS classic while tinkering with the core gameplay with a large amount of respect. Fans of the old game will welcome the HD reworking of the older foes from the floaters cyborg masks to the flying discs added array of firepower. The super shiny visuals mixed with the impeccably cinematic approach just shows that in the right hands, a remake can almost surpass the original. Do take care though. I forgot to mention that is ten times more addictive than sugar coated smack. For a week, I didn’t have any free time to myself until the end credits crept up the screen and I breathed a sigh of relief before slouching into a pile of junk food containers and piss jars. If this game is widely played, we really don’t stand a chance against alien invasion.

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A man with nothing left to lose except time

by on Jul.10, 2012, under Review, Video Games

What does a man who has nothing left to lose have to lose when he kept losing things close to him over the span of 2 games? That was the poorly worded question diving in a slow motion blur through my head when they first announced the return of legendary constipated cop (with nothing left to lose) in Max Payne 3.

As part of their seemingly unstoppable campaign at creating gaming perfection, Rockstar decided to dust off one of their iconic characters for one last squeeze of the trigger. After losing his wife and child to a drug fuelled conspiracy – before losing his sort-of grief girlfriend – Max Payne is now living alone in Hoboken, New Jersey. Now a retired cop, Max stumbles across an opportunity to work as a bodyguard for a rich family living in the poverty slapped Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

All while wearing a flowery shirt

Moving away from a dark and gritty New York City and into the vibrant setting of a location where the wealth divide could fit 5 luxury yachts doesn’t feel like an expected move for the Max Payne saga, but it doesn’t feel like such a dramatic departure. The game opens to a Max several years past his prime, drunkenly stumbling around his new South American flat, voicing his problems in a pathos-ridden soliloquy over the backing of the series’ dreary theme tune. Yet again, he has set the tone for the rest of the game.

Working as a bodyguard, Max is in charge of the safety of the Branco family – a pound shop Dallas cast for the 2010’s with the only one with any dignity being the patriarchal older brother, Rodrigo. After defending the family from the ambushes of a highly armed street gang, Fabiana – Rodrigo’s trophy wife – is kidnapped, putting the knife of regret firmly into Max’s shoulder once again. Alongside his compadre – Raul – Max gets embroiled in another explosive conspiracy where trouble has a GPS tracker.

Wrinkled from constipation

The adventure takes place across swampland, high tech offices and even a football stadium complete with floodlights and heavy snipers. It’s a very cinematic affair, but one that doesn’t put theatrics in the way of arcade-style gameplay. Thankfully, there are no quicktime events and the boss fights don’t bring the action to a difficult halt. The level of difficulty curves at a good swoop, but is never too easy. However, there are times when you have to listen to the same scripted lines over and over again due to lack of manual saving and easy death. But these hurdles are few and far between and don’t spoil Max Payne 3’s brilliant gameplay.

The gun fights play out in the most flowing style you will ever see. Rather than the invincible torpedo of bullet flinging death in previous games, if Max dives into something (say, a rusty filing cabinet), things go from Chow Yun Fat to Chow Yun fell over. An element of care is required when pulling off the devil may care stunts that define the character. Max’s movement bears the lumbering trademark of Rockstar’s Euphoria engine, but still responds well to your command. Rather than running in a small Nico Bellic-esque semi circle to simply turn around, Max is far more direct, making the gruffly voice drunk a much better gunfighter than expected. He’s not looking too bad either.

Laser sight gets pretty pointless

It’s been nearly 10 years since the release of the last Max Payne and the leap in graphical improvement is astounding. The level of detail matches LA Noire in terms of realism, but not to the point where you’re hypnotised by peoples realistically yapping faces. This even extends to the violence, which doesn’t hold back at all. It goes all the way from juicy exit wounds exploding from the back of a fresh kill’s head to the grisly remains of someone who lost a fight with a pipebomb – not to mention most of his limbs and organs, too. Supplementing the superb gun battles are the potentially overused slow motion shots that trigger after killing the last guy in the room. In a breathtaking 3 seconds, you see the bullet swoop from your barrel and straight through your target. Alongside the gore, it’s pretty gratuitous to strap yourself headfirst into the violence. Not that it’s a bad thing of course.

The single player will take a casual week to complete, but it is worth going over again on the more extreme difficulties. The good folks at Rockstar were even kind enough to bestow an arcade mode – for those of us who just want to dive right into some no-nonsense action – and a cookie-cutter multiplayer – for those of us who want to dive right into a pre-pubescent shouting match online. Somehow, the multiplayer mode isn’t too bad. It takes on board the framework of a basic Call of Duty upgrade system and lets you run wild. Oh, and bullet time is included, but be warned: If you can see things in slow motion, so can everyone else.

Once again, Rockstar create a cinematically sound outing that really drags you from reality and into a realistic fantasy world. Although Max is showing his age, the presentation – from the quirky faux-comic panel shots to the Max’s drunkview – is astounding. Even the soundtrack avoided the typical nuances that plague just about every other action game. A co-op mode would have been nice, but now I’m just being spoilt.

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Putting the murder and executions into mergers and acquisitions

by on Mar.11, 2012, under Review, Video Games

Just like Hollywood, the videogame industry has got the reboot bug. Aging titles like Tomb Raider, Doom and Goldeneye have all been given that extra coat of next-gen shine in the last decade with more titles yet to be revitalised. Most of the time the new vision is faithful to the original and lovingly crafted to the point where you wonder if the guy behind it was an avid fan himself. But with most video game being consolidated into fewer over-arching genres, you’re more than likely to get another Call of Duty clone that wears the skin of that old memory like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. So what happens when you take a futuristic squad strategy game from the 90’s and give it the first person treatment?

DART vision simplifies things

Before he started to make empty promises, Peter Molyneux was ahead of his time when it came to innovative games. With titles such as Populous, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper under his much needed hat by the time Y2K became an international concern, Molyneux proved what you can accomplish if you move away from the mainstream. One of his better portfolio pieces lay dormant for a long time before anyone decided to dust it off. The cyber-punk classic Syndicate put you in the role of an owner a growing corporation in the future with the intent of world domination via hostile takeovers. Extremely hostile takeovers. And now we finally have the 21st century remake.

The year is 2069. There are not nations, only corporations. Cybernetics, wireless technology and weaponry have reached an ungodly level where a fully armed individual can hack computers with their mind, fire bullets around corners and act like an unstoppable one man army. It isn’t hard to imagine what a fully funded multi-national company can achieve in this dark future. The big companies are set to battle for world domination and have enlisted their own private army of genetically enhanced super soldiers known as “Agents”. You take the role of Agent Miles Kilo of Eurocorp as you give put the murder and executions into mergers and acquisitions.

One of the first things that screams out when playing this game is its similarities with Deus Ex 3. It’s a futuristic shooter which gifts you with cybernetic abilities. In this world, the iPhone is a thing of the past. There is only DART, a neural chip inplant which gifts its user with access to the dataverse (the internet, basically), making all handheld electronic devices unnecessary. Eurocorp implants you with the new DART 6 chip giving you access top more than Facebook and Wikipedia. The first skill your taught is to override another user’s DART chip, and their mind, to turn on your enemies before taking their own life. Think a crude form of mind control that is alarmingly effective. But that’s not all you’re armed with.

Minigun - no substitutes

But what is a shooter without things that shoot? All of the old weapons from the original game have been restored, with a few others thrown in to give variety to your killing career. You start off plugging away with uzi’s, assault rifles and grenades, but it’s not long before you’re causing merry hell with flamethrowers, pod-rocket launchers and even a portable minigun capable of sawing your enemies in half – literally. One of the more bizarre items in your arsenal is the new gauss gun. Instead of being an overpowered laser blaster, as they usually are in these games, the gauss gun locks onto a target and changes the bullets path, allowing you to curves shots without having to leave cover. It made some of the more annoying boss fights easier to manage.

Surprisingly, the game’s visuals look like a lot more work went into than your garden variety FPS. The same can be said about the gameplay – it looks and handles like Battlefield 3. Running through a gunfight, sliding across the floor before breaking the neck of a trigger happy foe is as easy as paying with chip and PIN. Fire fights flow without any major problems and using the mix of bullets and DART control never happens the pacing. The boss fights do get frustrating, especially when you’re on your 50th attempt at following their pattern before a mistimed slide puts you into the path of yet another homing missile. But there’s only a handful of them, with only a couple that really test your nerves.

Fan of Blade Runner will want to take in the atmosphere

After you complete the main story in under 8 hours, there’s still co op mode. Now this mode really does pay tribute to the original game. Taking a similar set up to Left 4 Dead, you’re part of a 4-person team that has to go into an enemy facility and steal/assassinate/destroy whatever your boss tells you. Using teamwork, you can split your skills amongst you and heal each other should things go awry. This mode has two great things going for it. One is the COD-esque upgrade system and the other is that each level is a re-imagined mission from the original game. Saying that there’s a sense of nostalgia with this, is an understatement. There’s 8 long missions, a lot of upgrades to work on and it never gets dull. This is worth paying the full price on it’s own.

Syndicate is a remarkable sci-fi shooter that doesn’t taint the memory of the 90’s classic. Whilst it features yet another campaign mode that can be obliterated in a full Sunday, the co op mode will keep you coming back for more again and again. There are enough amazing set pieces that makes the main game worth returning to for a mop up of achievements. The only thing that would make this game perfect would be more co op maps and possible a team deathmatch mode with police and civilians thrown into the middle of combat. With Deus Ex, Syndicate and Hard Reset creeping up on the FPS market, are we witnessing the revival of cyber-punk in videogames? If this is the result, then plug me in and update me.

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Escape From Gotham City

by on Dec.09, 2011, under Review, Video Games

It won’t be a few months until the final batman film is out in the cinema, so we’ll have to do with a videogame instead. Oh cruel fate, thy name is Christopher Nolan. Rather than watch Christian Bale use all the power of his Welsh hissing to simulate the embodied voice of fear, we’ll have to become Batman ourselves. Those of you who played the previous title, Arkham Asylum, will be glad to know that Batman: Arkham City is neither a carbon copy nor a massive step away from the perfect gameplay formula. In fact, the game has improved in just about every single way possible.

Harvey Dent: The original Burnt Face Man

After the breakout in Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne (Batman without his mask on) has stepped up into the world of politics to stand against the creation of Arkham City. Similar to the film, Escape From New York, Arkham City is a walled off and isolated area of Gotham that has been converted into a massive prison. Just like the cult film, criminals are simply dumped in and the door is locked behind them. Unfortunately, Bruce is arrested for an unknown crime during the games opening and is sent into the criminal complex. Waking up in a cell, Wayne encounters Hugo Strange, the prison’s warden. He mentions a sinister Protocol Ten before leaving to fulfil something equally nasty. Before you can say “Adam West”, Wayne escapes and finds his batsuit, ready to tackle the prison island.

From the moment you get out into the open, the game looks stunning. It is winter in Gotham and the city seems to go on into the distance like a sprawling metropolis. From the street to the highest factory chimney, there is an astonishing amount of detail. Most of the city is a ruin after being converted into a sprawling penitentiary, with derelict buildings, ruined freeways and crumbling landmarks. The size of the game is a bit of an illusion though. Once you’ve glided from one end of the island to the other, you soon learn that it wasn’t the big chunk of Gotham you first expected. But there’s still a huge area to explore. And to fight in of course.

To conquer an ass kicking, you must become one...

The best aspect from Arkham Asylum was the flowing fighting system, and nothing has been ruined. Taking on around ten thugs in an average fight is one off the most exhilarating experiences you can have with a game pad. Just like last time, you build up a combo by attacking enemies whilst leaving your lycra ass unscathed. Watching Batman bound from one guy to the next in a flurry of acrobatic attacks starts to resemble a manly game of pinball, rather than a mass punch up. New moves have been included to add variety into the beatings, including beat downs and double takedowns. A beat down involves stunning a particularly tough enemy and pummelling them with what can only be describe as an inhumanly fast string of punches. The double takedown is pretty much self explanatory: You take out two guys at ones, usually by bashing heads together.

As well as the amazing take on Gotham City, Batman’s friend and foes have had the same polish put upon them. There are some old faces returning, including a sick and dying Joker, but there are a surprisingly large amount of new faces poured in. One of the first you’ll see is an old favourite, The Penguin. Rather than being the quacking, flippered mutant that we’re so used to, this new Penguin resembles a cross between Ray Winstone and Bob Hoskins. He talks like them, as well. No mutations. No army of mind controlled birds. Just a black market dealer with a slightly pointed nose and a heart as black as…well a penguin. Two Face appears in a guise similar to Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent in the Dark Knight Film. That lidless staring eye still sends shivers down the left side of me. But one character deserves a designers award.

More effective than a cold shower

At certain point during the game, the action flips from Batman to another (sort of) ally. No, it’s not Robin, although he does make a brief appearance. Whipping from rooftop to rooftop, Catwoman is your Batman away from Batman, and this is the best looking Catwoman yet. Rather than donning stitched PVC, Miss Kyle wears a biker-esque cat suit with some cute ears and some snazzy tech goggles. The cat suit is unzipped to just about the right point, so during cut scenes I accidentally found myself at here ever so slightly exposed chest. Not out of loneliness, you understand; just admiring the fine rendering. Playing as Catwoman is just as distracting. With her own fight moves and gadgets, fighting as her takes a slightly different pace. Also, instead of the grappling hook, she swings with her whip into the side of buildings, before scaling the wall at a pace that puts Ezio Auditore to shame. One vital skill is her ability to crawl on ceilings. Not really like a cat, more like a spider, but it get’s the stealth sections done with less hassle.

The main story can be completed in an intense weekend (the kind that involves a strict itinerary for eating and sleeping), but there is still a fortune in side missions, challenges and various treasure hunts set up by The Riddler. Batman Arkham City plays more or less the same as the last game, but with an entire city space to fly and fight in, it’s the best Batman experience next to seeing The Dark Knight Rises next year. Now if they could at least put a Batmobile section in the next game.

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World War 3 better be this entertaining

by on Nov.25, 2011, under Review, Video Games

We’ve been hanging on a cliff for two years now. “Which cliff?” some of you might ask. Well, back in 2009, Russia invaded America, and the corrupt US general involved got the closest view of a knife, killing him in the process. Now we have no idea when peace will glide over and sort this mess out. Before you start to panic and slide through the news sites, don’t worry: it’s just a game. Modern Warfare 2, 6th game in the long running Call of Duty franchise, gave us a taste of what to expect if the USSR invaded the USA (hey, it’s been a long time coming). Now, the imaginatively named sequel, Modern Warfare 3, skips the starter and goes straight to the main course: World War 3. It’s the end of the world as we know and it plays fine.

Lots of dramatic posing

After a series of teasing trailers, everyone was getting excited about the locals in the game. From Manhattan to the Champs-Élysées, from Westminster tube station to Somalia, it’s a globe trotting quest of nuclear proportions. Each level has it’s own feel to it and, just like a Hollywood movie, has very memorable set pieces. In New York, you take a chopper ride through wall street before taking a Russian sub in the harbour. In London, you speed into a truck chase in the bustling underground. I won’t even spoil what happens in Paris, but think Team America. Each level has a stunning amount of detail and brings World War 3 into shocking reality.

Continuing from Soaps unfortunate incident with someone else’s knife, the story flips between a handful of groups. After catching up with the remains of Task Force 141 (Captain Price still has the ‘tash), we’re onto taking control the American Delta force, then gunning with the British SAS, as well as tasking the role of a Russian bodyguard. After the invasion of America, The Russians begin to invade Europe like a red blitzkrieg. However, the Russian president is seeking to end the war. This is hampered with the appearance of series villain Makarov, who still wants to see Russia rise to take over the world. It plays out like the summer blockbuster epic that you’ll be watching over and over again. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, and, if you’re already attached to the characters, you’ll cry.

London Underground went downhill after privatisation

Whilst it’ll take around six to eight hours to get through, it’s still a fantastic example of how far cinematic gaming has come, as it makes you feel like you’ve been warped into a film. Of course, by this point the series has moved away from pretending to be a realistic shooter. It works better as the ridiculous Michael Bay style explosion gauntlet that throws realism away in favour of providing a dazzling spectacle. Just like Modern Warfare 2, there was a controversial scene that left a rather awful taste in the mouth. Without revealing much, it involves a chemical attack on jolly old London. Whilst it’s not as breathtaking as the nuclear attack in Call of Duty 4 or as uncomfortable as the airport massacre in the previous game, it still fills you with dread whenever you replay the level.

Thankfully, the game doesn’t handle with dread. The controls are just as effective as they always have been. Not only this, but it runs as smoothly and is flowing as ever. Apart from a few new weapons and upgrades, there is barely any new changes. As always, the visuals have had their yearly wash and scrub to keep up with graphic demands. The levels do have a large feel to them, but you’re still restricted to the linear tourist route. If anything, the gameplay has become simpler and more streamlined. The vehicle sections split up the action before it gets too repetitive. One of the new vehicles can only be described as an unmanned robot tank. Armed with a chaingun and grenade launcher, you use this mechanical mayhem-bringer to clear the path for your venerable team to get through. Death from above fans will be glad to know that the AC 130 gunship returns to rain fiery death to everything within it’s reach.

Why is it always the monuments that blow up?

Once you’ve gasped at the games ending and wiped the sweat from the pad, You’ve still got Spec Ops mode to conquer. Not only has a ranking system been included, a Horde-esque survival mode has been added. just like the previous Spec ops, you can complete them with a friend and they focus on various scenarios that have taken place throughout the main game. Each mini mission is challenging and will keep you coming back over and over again. The Survival mode also breathes longevity into the game. Starting off with just a basic pistol, you are trapped in one of the games maps and an endless supply of soldier, dogs and helicopters try to hunt you down. Think Nazi Zombies, but without the Zombies…or the Nazi’s, if we’re being pedantic. Weapons become unlockable as your rank increases, and the enemy forces become tougher and larger. It’s the ultimate arcade experience.

And who could forget the multiplayer experience, as well. Call of Duty’s legendary multiplayer returns yet again with this years edition. Gone are the unfair kill streaks that allow over-skilled players to end the game at the flick of a nuclear switch. instead the streaks have been balanced out, and acquiring them isn’t so unforgiving. The pace is still as fast as ever and you need to be quick on your feet as well as being quick on the draw. As far as the levels go, they are just as varied as the previous games with major set pieces ripped from the main game. The multiplayer is still fast, manic and explosive, even if there has been barely any significant changes.

Modern Warfare 3 delivers an action-spammed experience as usual. With a memorable campaign mode and the new survival game, this is the one Call of Duty title that you will keep coming back to play over and over again.

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Aiming down the sites at the best shooter of the year

by on Nov.07, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Only Christmas has managed to beat 2011’s most anticipated event. It’s not an election, it’s not the second coming and (thank goodness) it’s not the next Richard Curtis film. Yes, Battlefield 3 has been making more men quiver with anticipation without the aid of Jessica Alba. “What’s to be that excited about” you may say in a mature and cynical tone (possibly whilst flicking through a copy of the Evening standard). It is a typical shooter and is not really breaking any major gameplay boundaries it sure does look nice. But looks aren’t everything, right?

The best rendered doorways ever

The most obvious thing to get excited about this new release are the mind-blowingly real visuals. Again, you cynics out there might say that they can’t be that much of a dramatic leap, but you’d be surprised. The animation and movement flows smoother than the evening’s first pint of Guinness and is just as refreshing. There are moments where you think you’re watching the action unfold from the viewpoint of a particularly brave cameraman. It’s the most convincing virtual experience you can get this year and there’s not much more that needs to be said.

The gameplay has hardly changed, but then again it aint broke. A gun catalogue the size of the Pentagon is included in the game with all the various attachments thrown in. Because just using your gun to shoot people get’s a bit vanilla after a while, of course. So it has a lot of guns; a standard expectation of any shooter. But Battlefield doesn’t draw the line at the boomstick bargain basement. They’ve been shopping at Napalm Neddy’s Military Vehicle Dealership too.

Becoming the air strike never felt so good

From jeeps to tanks, from choppers to jets, just about anything with a steering wheel can be used. Coming up against a tank when the only thing protecting you is the destroyable wall right next to you is an experience like no other. At times, the amount of vehicles on a multiplayer map can disrupt the flow of gun fighting, but if you had the sense to get a tank in the first place, you wouldn’t be moaning. In fact, why not take control of a fighter jet and provide countless airstrikes whilst pretending you’re Tom Cruise.

Buildings still blow up, thankfully

As expected, the multiplayer mode on this new game is expansive, incredible and very in-depth. But what about the single player? I have to say, I was quite surprised to find at how interesting the campaign was. Granted, it borrowed (stole, if you will) a lot of set pieces from the past couple of Call of Duty games, but it’s still good in it’s own right. But just like Call of Duty, you’ll have this licked in a particularly anti-social evening. There’ also a co-op mode included within. Just think Spec Ops from Modern Warfare 2.

For some promises that seemed too good to be true, Battlefield 3 has managed to keep up its end of the bargain without sparing anything. Modern Warfare 3 is going to have hard target to aim for as it seems that this years shooter is a hard one to frag. This is the only shooter you will need until Battlefield 4 get’s released with its patented Better-Than-Reality engine.

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The real choice to make is in what way will you kill people with your robotic arms

by on Sep.11, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Back when the first Deus Ex game was launched on the PC back in 2000, multiple paths and choices in video games was something still restricted to the RPG circles. Fast forward to now and most mainstream games have chosen to take the multiple choice path. Will this concept lose its charm, or is it in need of some much needed expanding? With the release of the latest in the series, Deus Ex Human Revolution (eight years since the disappointing sequel The Invisible War) comes hope of a near perfect action RPG.

Of course, you're not invincible, so watch out

Whilst this is labelled as a sequel, the game takes places several decades before the first game. Somehow, everything looks more flashy and futuristic in 2027 than the grim dystopian landscape of 2050. Maybe it’s a plot inconsistency, or just the latest graphics engine pluming its feathers. The cyborg champion of the day is Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT security chief who is forced to undergo cybernetic surgery after being caught in the crossfire of a terrorist attack. His mission for the rest of the game is pretty straightforward: find those responsible.

I will admit, I wasn’t really expecting the story of narrative to top the original, but it is still heads above a lot of the recent shooters that have come out on the market. Not that it’s a hard thing to do, but still. Eidos have obviously tried to capture the amount of depth that the first game had to it. The worlds are extremely detailed and explorable; Walking around Detroit was actually pleasant for once, but turn down the wrong alley and you could be faced with a random gun fight, or even worse; random side missions.

Now bend over...

I’m not saying the side missions are bad, but imagine trying to read a book when another smaller book plops onto the page for your attention. Oh sure, you can abandon your current read to quickly skim through this new novel, but it begins to feel like the flow of the story suddenly stops. However, on the second play round, I welcome these random excursions with open arms. One of the finer points about them is that they can be quite in depth missions.

At one point in the game, I took time out from the main quest to help an undercover cop investigate two rival gangs. Should it have been any other game, the side mission would have involved a typical three stage affair with little imagination. But in this game, it felt more like another level in its own right. I had to make my own choices on how to deal with each leader of the gang, as well as make a shady meeting with a corrupt cop. I forgot that I was supposed to be tracking down the terrorist group from the beginning of the game.

The only picture of Detroit that doesn't have someone on fire

To help you get through the game with less hassle are the cybernetic upgrades. As with the first Deus Ex game, you get experience points throughout and can improve a large variety of skills from hacking a computer to jumping several metres into the air at the drop of a hat. The only weird change that has been made is the energy system. Now to perform special moves and hand to hand combat, you need to have a charged battery primed and ready. Gone are the varieties of melee weapons. Instead, you take out enemies with a variety of close quarter combat moves. Luckily, it never gets boring.

As well as these defining features, elements from a few other games have been craftily woven in. From the stealth mechanics of Splinter Cell Conviction to the interrogation matrix of LA Noire, it is pretty clear that Eidos were trying to pack everything they could without breaking the seams. Unfortunately, the game is surprisingly short with four endings that require almost zero effort to achieve. By the time I had reached the final level, I was feeling a little duped.

Whilst the game does boast a multiple choice narrative, Deus Ex Human Revolution feels a little too restrictive. The boss fights throughout the game remind you that, unless you made the choice of upgrading yourself for combat rather than stealth (or whatever you actually wanted to do), the whole experience is going to be that little bit harder. But whilst there may not be large amounts of paths to take, the journey is fantastic on all of them. Not quite the original, but the best long awaited sequel yet.

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Twelve Duke-less years

by on Jun.17, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Well, it’s been just about twelve years that I’ve been waiting to kick ass and possibly chew bubble gum. Twelve long years. In that time, we’ve seen many shooters come and go and come again as remakes. Twelve long years. I first remember playing Duke Nukem 3D round an old friends house for the first time. It’s unflinching violence and sexy sexist content was like nothing seen before outside of Japan. It was near the millennium when I first saw footage of Duke Nukem Forever. Even then it still looked awesome. So it’s now 2011. I’m no longer the bright eyed awkward child I was back then. As I slip down in my cynical coughing youngish body, one thought strikes me: How long has this level been loading for?

Without the police uniform, can;t they just be called pigs?

Yes, I had my suspicions that the Chinese Democracy of video games wouldn’t be perfect, but really. There’s enough game developers on board to re-enact the Normandy beach landing and have enough left over to provide the catering. And these are good developers for first person shooters at that. The trailers made the game to look a little bit better than my experience of it, but that could be due to the fact that I’m playing it on an Xbox 360 rather than a PC. So therefore, I’m technically playing a PC port, which doesn’t fill me with much joy as it makes me want to buy that quad core fat bastard computer that tempts me in my dreams with its promise of 8 gig of RAM and an optional blowjob port for lonely nights.

 

So the graphics are looking a little dated in places, but in a word it could be best described as adequate. The Duke looks great in his modern incarnation, but the thing is that it all seems like one massive update on the 1996 original, which still remains on my best games of all time ever list. All the weapons included in game are pretty much remakes of the ones in the previous outing. This is both a good and a bad thing. Whilst it’s a joy to see the freezethrower and the shrink ray feature, the rest just feel like they were bought along for no reason other than to complete the set. But at least the devastator is still as breathtaking as it was all those years ago.

I forgot to mention the obligatory driving sections...

Not only that, but most of the enemies seem to be making a return, It’s like some kind of reunion that’s almost becoming a remake altogether. The only major difference is that the pigcops seem to act like scaled down hulks with guns. They wouldn’t be such a problem to kill if the aiming didn’t handle so horribly. In know the Duke has the firepower like an artillery cannon, but does he have to aim like one? Whilst the frantic running and gunning from the original have been kept intact in this new version, it could have been made more bearable if you had the same smooth aiming in a more modern shooter like, oh say, Call of Duty. There I said it.

 

One aspect I do like are the boss fights. Not only have they included an element that they’ve decided to abandon in more modern shooters, they’ve improved on them. Once you’ve strafed away your ankles dodging their fire and filling their heads with enough rockets to rearm Libya, you have to perform some kind of button bashing move to finish them off. It’s like a fancy pat on the back for taking down the big guy and I feel this has been left out of too many Call of Duty games. Why can’t they make us fight a giant robot or something instead of shooting a normal sized man to end the game? Kids today!

Feels like a reunion alright...

The humour and nudity have been kept intact, though. At one point, you enter a dream sequence in some kind of titty bar. And I mean a real titty bar. Not the nipple covering dives that GTA throw at you. This is probably the first and last time I see nipples rendered that well, which, ironically was the best rendering I saw in the entire game. It’s not as if we were looking at anything other than the boobs were we? As for the humour, it’s still there, but at times, seems to go a little too far in the wrong direction. Hit and miss at best. I would like the use the rest of this remaining paragraph to say that I haven’t tried the multiplayer and have no intention of doing so.

 

Judging the game on single player merits entirely, it’s a bit disappointing, but there are some good moments. The main problem is, it’s a game that only fans of the 1996 game would really get the full benefit of. The guns are there, the tits are there and we got a whole horde of aliens, but old Duke has arrived too late to the party and everyone’s paying attention to Battlefield 3’s lovely looking evening attire. In all honesty, you could save yourself the money by just renting the game and spending the rest of the money getting Duke Nukem 3D on Xbox live.

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