Will Preston

Video Games

Put me through to R & I!

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

Monday Morning. I’m investigating the scene of a possible homicide. After driving like a Nascar berk through a highly pedestrianised part of LA without anyone batting an eyelash, we arrive at the ticker taped clearing with gawking rubber-neckers in tow. The body of an unidentified woman (naked) lies in a possible rape position. It’s the rendering of her netherings that catches my eye. Inspecting the body by rotating her arms until my hands rumble, I’m given more clues about the murder. Clues to the crime aren’t so much dotted, as they are conveniently placed.

Rotate right stick to play footsy

Again, a rumbling rotation reveals even more clues on the scene. A shaky bystander is being questioned by police. After snapping out of the trance brought on by the creepily realistic face movements, it’s up to me to believe everything she says or nail a dead otter to her head with the words ‘Liar’ written in mud. Her eyebrows tell me she has something to hide, but what? I wave the bloodied rope in her face in a vague effort at getting her to admit to the murder of Mrs Gleason, the bank robbery last week and the unauthorised eating of my sandwich back at central precinct. This all leads to nothing, so I’m forced into doing the whole thing again at the next crime scene.

 

Whilst most of the gameplay in LA Noire tends to follow a familiar pattern, there’s no doubting at how atmospherically thick it is. I mean, there is a point in some games where you never forget you’re playing a game, but thanks to some fantastic acting and the brand new motion capture technology that Rockstar have been Chinese Democracy-ing for the past seven years, I was convinced at times that I was watching a new TV series in a similar vain to Mad Men. I believe we have now reached a milestone in graphic technology in mainstream gaming where the lines between reality and a virtual environment will tangle like Alan Moore’s beard. It does require in depth gameplay and fluidity to make the escapist experience in this medium possible, but effort on the visual front does help the eyes pop out into the fantasy.

Cameras the size of children

As far as I’m concerned with LA Noire, it is the most well presented console game to date. Now that I’ve got all the shameless felating of the game visuals out of my system, I can get round to talking about the game itself. In short, it’s practically an adaption of LA Confidential. It’s the late 40’s, and Cole Phelps has been promoted to the ranks of detective within the world’s friendliest (sarcasm) police force. The course of the game takes you through several cases which you need to solve through a strung together series of point and click style searching, shooting, driving and fighting. Rather than stick to the sandbox style of play that Grand Theft Auto influenced just about every game out at the moment, LA Noire goes for a more separated approach. You’re never out of a mission, but you can free roam the city to an extent. Just don’t expect to go on a rocket launcher fuelled rampage that Rockstar usually fires at you. You’re a cop remember. Protect and Serve, is the LAPD’s motto.

 

Art Deco-tacular

Although the Euphoria engine still makes your character walk like he’s carrying too many Tesco bags full of oranges, the cars handle the best in any sandbox game that I’ve played. And they look bloody nice too. Marv from Sin City was right when he said that modern cars look like electric shavers in comparison. Noire-esque incidental music playing whilst tailing a suspect really completes the image. I’ve already bought myself some nice braces for my trousers. The trilby is next. Even the story has the potential to trump other top gaming narratives so far. There are a few twists that I can’t mention for health reasons and the dialogue is just perfect in places. As I said, a very well presented game.

 

The only possible downer is that there’s no real free roam in the Grand Theft Auto sense and there’s no multiplayer to laze into. But can that be a bad thing? Although it does limit the replay value, it makes the focused single player more fulfilling, like a well stuffed sandwich. Although you already know the outcome of each case, there are still many alternative ways to end it. Some with surprising results. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to listen to jazz in my trilby whilst talking like James Cagney. Being single is great.

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Night of the exploding green dildos

by on Apr.27, 2011, under Review, Video Games

It’s not often that my social life is politely asked to leave the party because it might interfere with my crippling videogame habit. You’d think so, but it really isn’t. My bastarding social life has pulled me out of the party on many occasions, but I have no idea why. Was it because of the promise of people and fresh air, or was it because the party (metaphorical party full of videogames, that is) wasn’t that impressive to begin with? Of course not. The party’s always buzzing, but I often leave before eleven. Games just aren’t as harmfully addictive like they used to be. Even some of the more addictive ones by today’s standard fail at turning me into a pale skinned reprobate. It’s sad times for all.

Not THAT much time on my hands, I'm afraid

However, I found hope. I say I found it: it found me and wouldn’t let me go. Not even for a poo. It’s not often I review indie games. Actually, I don’t think I’ve reviewed any indie games so far, but I think we’ve now reached the point where some of the better games are coming elsewhere than the main publishers. Minecraft is a game from Mojang, but the thing is, there’s no real object to the game. So is it a game? Yes and no. It’s a game the same way that Sim City is a game. There is no concrete objective, but it’ll keep you busy. I’ve spent entire days on here so far. As soon as I retreat to my room, I’m back on and working away.

Now that's just silly

At this point, you might wonder why I refer to it as work. The game revolves around resource gathering and building. There’s a survival element as well, which pushes you to gather more resources. Or it would if there was more pressure to do so, but the makers are intending to work on that. This is a beta game after all. Each new game starts off in a randomly generated landscape featuring hills, rivers, mountains, trees and vast underground caves. All rendered in fantastic Lego Duplo blocks. But that didn’t put me off. Each block you can see can be manipulated, and considering the size of the map, anything is possible. That horrible crushing feeling of freedom occurs right about now as a million and one things to do crowd into your head, each pushing for space at the front of the queue. But there’s no time for that now! First thing you need to do is build some shelter.

This was probably the hardest bit of the game for me. As it’s a beta game, there are no helpful tutorials that more mainstream games saturate you with. I had to find the nearest wiki site and familiarise myself with learning to build items and all the things I can possibly make. To this day, I’m still learning new things, partly because the game gets updated occasionally and new things get added. Once you have a few goes at building a house and all of the relevant house based paraphernalia, then you can start on bigger projects. But you’ll need to learn about where to find the materials. So you wander the countryside looking for a resource stuffed mine, but before you find a gaping stony hole to penetrate, the sun buggers off before turning into Jason and the Argonauts.

KILL IT! KILL IT! FOR FUCK'S SAKE KILL IT!

So it turns out that time passes in this game and darkness attracts monsters. Fine. You can learn to make a sword and take them on. You have your zombies and arrow firing skeletons to deal with, but then there’s another thing causes a swearing heart attack at the first possible sighting. One of the most bizarre monsters I’ve ever seen out of the Final Fantasy series: The Creeper. Otherwise known as the Suicide Shrub, this green bastard walks at you with its dead face and does its best impression of Libya. That’s right, it blows itself up, taking out anything nice you’ve made nearby, possibly killing you as well. During one unlucky afternoon, I was building a bigger house (the other one had lost its pizzazz, so it was relegated to shed). Night fell down and I forgot to block any entrance to my new house. This didn’t seem like a problem, but at the next moment one of those green dildos walked in and blew apart half my house. Luckily, you can make doors, but I forgot to in this case.

Minecraft is a fantastic idea that has been executed brilliantly. As we speak, I have a five story building that I live in, with a boat house, farm and a network of mine cart tracks that allow fast access to all the mines that I’ve discovered so far. And I’m still playing it obsessively. You can buy the beta version right now for just over a tenner, but it’s not a question of money, it’s a question of time. Can you provide the ample time out of your life needed to play this blocky behemoth? This review has taken far longer to do, thanks to Minecraft’s seductive gaze and not because of my social life, for once. The full version is out at the end of this year, so why not download the beta now and build that Cliffside mansion you’ve always wanted, until some green fucker vaporises the well constructed entrance hall.

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When in Rome…get someone else to do your dirty work for you

by on Apr.20, 2011, under Review, Video Games

I’m not the one to complain about the atmosphere of Renaissance-era Italy, but there is a reason why Thomas Cook does four night breaks and not four month ones. In Assassin’s Creed 2, I pretty much got the jist of this time period, with its fancy architecture and snazzy puff pants. So there should be no need for this to be covered further. Well, not unless there is something really important that was left out. And what could be more important than minor plot progression and a surprisingly good tacked on multiplayer?

Ubisoft's nomination for most obvious location

Yes, it seems that the Assassins Creed series is going to hang around the life of Ezio Auditore until the number 87 bus arrives to take us to the next major period of human history. Ah well, better find something to do in the meantime I suppose. Following from the last game, Ezio escapes the Vatican in Rome after unleashing a massive spoiler that I don’t have the heart to ruin for everyone. Aren’t I nice. This leads to his home villa being turned into a rather Italian language version of Helms Deep, which provides the game with a well timed revenge plot. Don’t worry though, the sneaking comes later. Ezio and co set up new digs in Rome and sets about renovating the city without a permit whilst training chimpanzee sounding assassins, just in case he gets a stitch during a particularly routine contract.

Assassins Creed Brotherhood almost a dull carbon copy of the previous game if it wasn’t for some redeemable features. First off is the combat. Two major things have been overhauled for the 16th century assassin. Instead of taunting armed guards until they swing at you, Ezio can take the Eric Cartman method of kicking the opponent in the balls to effectively drop their guard. Seriously, the amount of times I abused this new skill, it was little wonder why the guard force didn’t research into some kind of armoured spiked codpiece to come between my toes and their dangly parts. The other good fighting technique is also a bit of a handy timesaver. Instead of having to work away at each person until you can execute them, you can perform chain executions. Providing you don’t get hit in between of course. It does get a bit embarrassing when the rest of the group of attackers stand and watch whilst I dervish my way through their skulls, as if they have come to accept death at my unforgiving hand.

Remember, this is technically a stealth game...

Alright, so the AI hasn’t improved that much since the last game. In fact, they have done bugger all with it, which is a shame. One thing that seems to feel a bit lacking are the graphics. Maybe it’s just me, but the visuals in Brotherhood seem to be a bit washed out in comparison, almost as if they’ve been left in the hot Italian sun between releases and it’s yet to hydrate itself in time for the launch. The same could be said about the horse riding. That sun must have tired them out I guess as I can only manage a modest gallop instead of the Lone Ranger levels of speed that the last game seemed to spoil me with.

But, ironically, one of the games new improved features could be its downfall. I mentioned the chimpanzee sounding assassins earlier. Well after a certain point in the game, you start your own Rome based creed, as if starting something like this is as easy as setting up a group on Facebook. You find assassin’s on the street (as you do) and then assign them to missions, which train them up in the process. When not dealing with cross-European slaughter, you can whistle the assassin’s in to dispatch the enemies for you, which can take all the challenge out of the game. Why bother burning calories to move the thumbstick AND press the X button to take out one person, when multiple enemies can be annihilated by pressing the left bumper and walking away. The text adventure style mission management of the assassins is a bit addictive, although it doesn’t really offer too much of a challenge and becomes tedious once you’ve mastered it. Not that it takes long to master.

I try not to think what could be going on here

And then we come to the multiplayer. It’s never a surprise for major games series to cave in and design an online multiplayer mode for their fans to screech at each other on. Brotherhood’s multiplayer redeems the game by being original and clever…and based on an idea that I had around ten years ago. But I’m not going to sue. Funnily enough, it’s the multiplayer mode that features more stealth than the single player for once. You assume the role of one of eight types of people and are then thrust into a crowded place where all the NPCs are one of the eight types of people to play as. And you’re mission? To find your target and kill them, but before you are killed yourself by another assassin. It’s pure gaming deception at its finest. You gain points for killing the right person, with bonus points awarded for stealthy stabs, rather than my favourite method of running and screaming. Assassinating take a lot of skill, considering that there is a lot more pressure to blend in and throw potential pursuers a red herring. It’s tense, tactical and tickles me every time I get my man.

Whilst it’s not really that much of an improvement, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is worth the full price for the multiplayer alone. The single player is restricted to one city and can be licked in a week of intense play, despite the abundance of side missions and hidden items scattering the streets. Now where is that time travelling bus? I was hoping to get off at my next stop: Victorian London.

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Behold the Milky Way in all its minimal glory

by on Apr.06, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Despite trying to make it seem like I’m a sociable kinda guy on my Facebook profile, I never usually court popularity. It just isn’t my style. When a popular game/film/whatever comes to attention, I will scrutinise it as much as I can based on the fact it’s popular. That’s how untrustworthy I am of general human judgement. The first Mass Effect was a game I felt in two ways about. I really enjoyed the moral choices (You know, the ones that are now obligatory with every role playing game out there) and the ability to shape my man’s face into the redundant mess that resembles yours truly. But the main problems with the game got in the way too often. The combat AI for your teammate’s always favoured the charge-in-all-at-once-in-a-compact-rabble option which scuppered any indoor combat, the frame rate dropped to that of a PowerPoint in most levels and there was way too much item management.

Skimpy costumes are still intact

This put me off even talking about playing the next game in the series until its price had dropped to a point where I could write it off in my budget as a small trip to the pub that never happened. Even with the promise about all things that make me cry about the first game being shooed away for the second one didn’t convince me until it dropped to a tenner. So here I am going against my refusal to play Mass Effect 2 and having to gorge on my words. The game starts off with Commander Sheppard (unisex space adventurer) dying heroically (or cowardly. You make the choices in this game) and being brought back to life Fifth Element style, except without the white latex body tape and flat breasts. A unique feature to this game at the start is you can import your likeness from the first game. Which I did before making several changes that turned my character to resemble a cross between myself and a particularly wide-mouthed Seth Green. Still it’s nice to look at myself running around in a game even if I do have to squint to make him look more convincing. Oh, and I used this moment to rid myself of a ginger beard, since there seemed to be a future law banning the use of razors onboard space ships. Never before have I been so committed about facial hair.

Get used to hiding around corners a lot

After the rebuilding process, I run head forward into my first combat, and it has improved. Well it’s still sub-Gears of War, but what isn’t these days. You have full command over your squad, but since the team mate AI from the first one has been repaired, this just seems a bit patronising considering they handle themselves far better than I could. Made me wonder why I was at Commander Rank in the first place. The vehicle sections are gone, which is a shame, but not surprising; it seemed like I was the only one in the Solar system to enjoy them. Instead you mine planets using some kind of space ultrasound before launching of probes. In a Freudian way there’s something very spermy about the whole affair, but less interesting. It’s simply a case of rubbing the planet to find things. One thing that didn’t need improving was the quality of voice acting, but BioWare decided that people should move and make gestures whilst talking. This made conversations seem less dull and made me smile on occasion, even if the subject was about interplanetary agriculture with an alien with a monotonous voice.

Rubbing planets for money

The story itself involves yet another threat to the galaxy, with Shepherd’s loyalty to his new boss being questioned every now and again. Mass Effect 2 is a very well executed game, but despite coming on two discs (far cry from the 4 disc days of the Amiga 500), it’s not that big a game. Sure, there are a large amount of choices in the game, but there are barely any locations to visit. You can travel across the many arms of the Milky Way, but most of the planets are unavailable to land on (and therefore only useful for “resource rubbing”). So it’s a small game that lets you travel the whole galaxy.

There’s no doubting that Mass Effect 2 is a big improvement over the first, but nothing has been done to make the combat more compelling. The levels are too samey and most of the weapons fell the same. But it has a great depth to it that can really pull you in, should you find yourself in the mood. If you’re in the mood for “resource rubbing”, that’s fine too, you pervert.

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Call of Duty’s handicapped and unwanted son

by on Mar.23, 2011, under Review, Video Games

There are always signs that one can look out for when an upcoming game isn’t going to live up to the hype. One sign is the lack of in-game footage in adverts. Another is if the game is made by a particularly unknown company. But one sign to look out for is when the game’s box has a sticker giving it a high score from a publication such as Zoo, The Sun or any other magazine that I would sooner use as fuel than consult it for opinions on what games to buy. Kaos Studios’ recent title Homefront gave off all these warning signs and a few more.

Try feeling like an underdog when you're armed with a tank! Go on, just try it!

Last year, this game looked like it was going to stand out in the field of first person shooters. The story and setting suggested that a different approach was going to take place compared to Call of Duty’s gun-gasm method. Film writer John Milius (Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now) crafted the story (I say story, it’s just Red Dawn rehashed with even more xenophobic propaganda) and the game’s advertising campaign dangles this in front of us like we’re supposed to drop our control pads and begin shaking with vigorous anticipation. Milius’ story is the typical ‘America get’s invaded and a small group of plucky rebels take back the country from the overpowered invaders’. And the overpowered invaders you ask? North Korea. Yes, it seems that pretending the Russians want to invade the USA in Modern Warfare 2 was small potatoes to Milius and he decided to start with real people and events (Kim Jong Il, North Korea missile testing, America’s economy crashing etc.) and take it an extra step further (Fuel supplies running to zero, North Korea invading neighbouring countries etc.). By the time you get a glimpse of the North Korean armies taking over the suburbs of an American town and shooting people on the spot, it all seems to be a bit too much like potential brainwashing. But I can live with that as long as I can just play this game and enjoy it as just a game and nothing else, right?

No idea why they're lining up citizens like that. Maybe they really hate Jersey Shore.

We were promised guerrilla warfare with an intense story. So that would be using your wits instead of relying on high-tec military grade equipment, right? What a whopper of a fib that turned out to be. For a start, an assault rifle with optional attachments is easier to get then light conversation. And ammo is pretty plentiful, so there wasn’t much use for tactics when you couldn’t crouch behind cover without finding a cache of weapons. I was looking forward to using my head and conserving ammo, but that’s just me. Not only this, but most of the game you have access to what can only be described as an unmanned tank which is remotely controlled by simply staring at the enemy. Guerrilla warfare, indeed! Then there’s the issue of crap presentation. Homefront’s graphics would have looked slightly dated on a Playstation 2. There’s sacrificing fancy graphics in favour of framerate and to allow more things to happen in the game at once, but here, the graphics are sacrificed in favour of absolutely nothing. The level design get’s so samey you forget where one mission ended and the other began. Ask me for any memorable moments in the single player campaign and I could only reply with an expression of confusion followed by an irritated grunt.

This is probably about as epic as the game got. Yawn...

The entire game takes place in the same less than densely populated area of America with barely any variety in layout and approach. But a shooter is a shooter and as long as the guns work I’m fine. Homefront’s guns sound terrible. Unless they’re on single shot, they sound like perforated lawnmowers, whenever you stab someone it sound like you’re breaking into a car and being hit by bullets sounds closer to being hit with a fly swatter. Really, what was Kaos Studio thinking?! Problems like this prevent me from feeling immersed in the game. Even Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 managed to make the guns sound like guns. Hell, even Doom is more atmospheric shooter. If you’re waiting for the positives, you might want to have a coffee break until I reach them as I still have a list to go through. The AI is so stupid that they often look at my thrown grenades like someone’s wrote a dirty limerick on the side, or maybe they’re just confused as my character seems to throw them like he’s bought his arms on eBay. The story could have been bought off eBay as well. Despite advertising a famous film writer working on the game, the story is completely un-compelling and the characters are so two dimensional, I’m not surprised they folded the resistance into a big envelope and posted themselves in order to sneak past enemy guards.

But Will, you must be thinking, surely the multiplayer must make up for a redundant cow pat of a single player mode? After having to enter in a code (or buy one, if you bought the game second hand) to access multiplayer, I got denied from 5 servers before playing my first game You earn points to buy things like vehicles and air strikes, but you can only choose from a very small amount of weapons, under half the amount of weapons from Call Of Duty 4. And no pistols. This sounds like a potentially good multiplayer, despite some flaws, but there still lies one main problem: it is the multiplayer from Homefront. All the issues with the game are still visible in multiplayer.

After finishing my experience with this game, I did something I haven’t done in eight years: I rushed out as quickly as I could to the nearest trade in shop and swapped it for a better game before anyone realised how much of a disaster it was. I’m no expert on international politics and possible invasion theories, but if North Korea do end up invading the USA, I can only hope that Kaos Studios are the first lined up against the wall.

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If at first you don’t succeed, fly a plane into the face of your enemies.

by on Mar.16, 2011, under Review, Video Games

This is the sandbox age of gaming. Nearly all games being released at the moment have as much free roaming as a diplomatically immune cockroach, with about as much capacity for destruction as a particularly angry sun. Square Enix’s recent sojourn with running amok with guns just turned out to be a shining example of what freedom really is. Just Cause 2 has no need for storyline. It also has no need for multiplayer, which is a surprising thing to say, I know! In the fictional island cluster of Panau (somewhere off the coast of China…I think…I wasn’t really paying that much attention), a former US ally, “Baby” Panay suddenly takes over the entire country under an oppressive regime.

There were no seats left

Typically, this is where you enter. Your man for the job is Rico Rodriguez (not voiced by Danny Trejo for some reason), who works for ‘The Agency’ (I will remind you again that story isn’t a feature included in this game. Neither is character depth). Not only do you have to topple the supposedly evil regime, you have to hunt down form Agency agent, Tom Sheldon. That’s the floppy, deflated balloon of a story handled with! To further your way through the game, you must cause chaos. And by chaos, you need to blow up military structures, thieve supplies and generally go Columbine, so to speak. As well as the usual array of weapons to help you complete this questionable charade, Rico also has the ability to grapple hook onto just about everything and summon parachutes from a mysteriously vacant backpack.

The parachute heavy gameplay brought back found memories of the classic chaotic shooter MDK, whilst the grappling hook turned Rico into some kind of Hispanic Spiderman. A neat trick the game teaches you to do is a manoeuvre called ‘catapulting’ which combines the use of the parachute and grappling hook to make every single other mode of transport in the game seemingly redundant. This is probably my only complaint with the game. The nation of Panau covers 40 square kilometres. I haven’t seen a game that big since Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. The terrain varies from forest, desert, snowy mountains and offshore facilities. It really is a huge game and a great amount of effort has been applied to ensure that the terrain doesn’t get too boring. Which would be fine, if stealing a jet and crossing the game in a matter of minutes wasn’t possible.

That's about one fifth of the game there

It’s a bit of a double edged sword when it comes to discussing Just Cause 2’s freedom. The whole game is accessible from the moment you press start. And that’s the whole game. The only things you have to work for is trudging towards seeing the end credits and upgrading your weapons. That’s it. The rest of the time can be spent causing chaos at over 300 locations in the game (one of which is a nifty nightclub in the sky aptly called the Mile High Club) or doing whatever you bloody well feel like. There isn’t that much urgency for you to do the next mission considering the only rewards will be more money and another mission. It’s like being allowed to run amok in a supermarket for as long as you want. First it seems a great idea as you start wreaking havoc in the dairy isle and doing all sort of Id-like things that no one in polite society would stand by to let you do. But after you’ve run out of ideas on what things you can do with this amount of freedom and groceries, you start to hit a brick wall when thinking of new things to do. Without much clear structure in a game, you lose drive to keep going. That’s one of the main niggles.

Your anti-gravity grappling hook

The other I was talking about earlier before I rudely interrupted myself with a frankly crap Tesco’s analogy was the massive environment. Now this sounds like something that can’t go wrong. After all, the terrain is varied and it would take a long while to walk from place to place. That is, of course, if you decide to NOT use the catapult technique or any of the easily stealable armada of bikes, cars, choppers and planes that litter the landscape like you’re inside Jeremy Clarkson’s head. Before you know it, that epic sounding 4 kilometer trek across enemy infested territory becomes a laughably drawn out idea as you extract yourself to the nearest airstrip, steal a jet fighter, fly it into the air, get out to stand on top of it and fire a barrage of machine gun bullets from an assault rifle whilst screaming past at over a hundred miles an hour.

The nearest game I could compare this to would be Mercenaries, but instead of readily available airstrikes to flatten any problems, you have more access to vehicles than one man should possibly need. But despite the problems with freedom in Just Cause 2, it provided me with the kind of no holds barred gameplay that provides a great stress relief. Just Cause 2 is currently available at such a cheap price and has such a long length of play that you’d be saving time and money buying this than wasting forty quid an another COD clone.

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No time for sneaking in today’s stealth games

by on Feb.23, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Patience is not something that we all have. Waiting is another hard thing to do in today’s fast paced, instant download and web shopping orgy. It just doesn’t happen. If you want something now you get it. This made me wonder about the fate of the stealth game, a genre comprising mostly of patience. It’s been about four years since the last Hitman game and the Splinter Cell series now as about as stealthy as Jack Black with tourettes, so I’m forced to give the new saga a go.

The, ahem, 'double hander'

Instead of starting from the beginning of the Assassin’s Creed series, I took the lazy option of reading the story for the first game and getting the second one for a tenner. Hearing nothing but how improved the second game is, I would have been saving time. The story seems pretty straightforward once you get past the fact that it’s comprised of utter spasticated conspiracy theory horse shit. You are Desmond Miles. Well you are for a bit before you play as his distant Ancestor Ezio Auditore de Firenze who travels about his day across rooftops whilst the rest of the squares walk around at ground level like the safety conscious pricks they are. Oh, and why are we playing as his ancestor?

Well Desmond was captured by a large company (Abstergo) and hooked up to a machine that lets them receive his ancestor’s memories through his, ahem, ‘genetic memories’ in order to stop the end of the world, or something. Not a biology major amongst the team at Ubisoft. Not that you’d even need to be one to point out that the concept is just silly. Even time travel or quantum leaping would have made more sense. Luckily the gameplay is enough to distract you from this scientific black hole. You play through a series of memories (missions) throughout Ezio’s life with occasional commentary on historical figures and architecture from the historical expert from the other end of the Animus (that’s the machine that makes all this happen. It’s most likely powered on sunshine and hope for all I know).

No, you aren't see things...

The period that Ezio resides in is renaissance Italy, a time when civilization was changing and De Vinci creates a load of projects that no one understands fully. Another odd point was Leonardo himself popping up in the game to help in what is a more ridiculous moment then JFK talking at you in Call of Duty Black Ops. Traversing the cityscape is more than just running to a flashing symbol on your radar. Ezio is skilled in the way of free running. Free running involves using buildings and street decoration to climb. See that slightly bumpy wall with various window ledges and a gutter? That’s a ladder for Ezio. It’s the games main feature and what astounds me when I climb buildings is the amount of detail that has gone into making it as real as possible. Hands go into cracks (stead on!), beams can be run across and Ezio always finds a way to make even the smallest jut of a wall climbable. It’s especially handy when faced with a crowd of angry guards, which happens quite a bit.

Now for what is technically a stealth game, there is little sneakery involved. Only half a dozen missions in the game require you to find a sneaky path, while the rest gives you enough freedom to boisterously run into the targets lair, attracting infinite guard attention, kill the target and run away from the pursuing crowd like The Beatles. This made the game a little too easy in some places. No longer would I have to plan ahead where I need to move to cover, I would now simply wing it. And that’s a great element lost. The planning ahead in a stealth game puts the right amount of pressure to do make the right choices and leads up to a more satisfying experience when the target drops dead. Very early on in the game, the amount of tutorial missions starts to make you wonder if the game will ever start.

It's an architectures wet dream

However, once the story started rolling along, and I was given my first assassin contract, I started to have fun. Early on in the game, you are forced to flee your hometown of Florence and you run away with your family to a villa with a surrounding town. In move similar to Fable, you can get an income off of the town’s economy. This income can be raised by a short list of renovations. Thing is, once I finished off improving the town I was getting more money than I knew what to do with. This lead me to buying all the weapons and armour in the game, despite me not needing them. Ezio now no longer had a concept of economy as he simply got what he wanted when he wanted it. As soon as I had everything, the game became a smooth sail, right until the end where the plot gets far weirder than previously thought.

Whilst it’s a bit too simple and action orientated for a stealth game (you’re forced to swordfight on several occasions), there were still times when I was doing what I can to not get spotted out by guards, despite the fact that I could take on about a dozen of them single handed. Assassin’s Creed 2 is a very pretty game with a focus on fancy finesse, rather than using your noggin, that will last over a week of casual play. Is that fast paced enough for you?!

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The most authentic wild west experience without getting dysentery

by on Feb.16, 2011, under Review, Video Games

It’s hard when you’re a man who loves guns in video games. Let me rephrase that. It’s hard when you’re a man who loves first person shooters about modern war. This is one reason I left Red Dead Redemption alone for a while. When I finally came round to playing it after being stubborn, I immediately felt guilty about not playing it sooner. In a way, the game itself was my redemption. Wild West games seem to barely exist today. From memory, apart from this game, I can only call out Gun and Call of Jaurez, which are both good games. What does that say about the genre? Either that there are either not enough games about the wild west, or these games have pretty much covered all the good points.

More manly than Raoul Moat drinking petrol

What makes Red Dead Redemption a superb title though is that the game plays out like Grand Theft Auto 4 should have played. Even the in game cut scenes were a joy to watch, despite that they were technically interrupting my game. That’s what grabbed me from the beginning. The long introduction see’s John Marston (who needs to win some kind of award for best character in a game, at least!) get off a train in the year 1911 (the last days of the wild west) with two moody government types. He’s on a mission from the government to capture his old outlaw friends to earn his redemption, but not before being shot and nursed back to health by a nearby rancher. The story shares a few similarities with the GTA series in the sense that your character is a man of questionable ethics who starts out with nothing in a strange land, apart from a vendetta.

"it says here that the treasure is buried under a rock..."

One thing that GTA didn’t have is the survival and RPG elements of Red Dead Redemption. Marston learns new skills and improves as the game progresses, which is fitting considering that each settlement is surrounded with harsh wilderness. You need to improve to survive in this game. Playing with a GTA hat on doesn’t get you by on its own. It takes more than just abiding the law to not get you killed. Various wildlife waits in the bushes to take you down when you least expect it. And there’s a lot. It starts out shooting groups of coyotes until you’re up against cougars and even a big old bear. And even then, you’ll probably be too distracted by the scenery to actually defend yourself.

I always thought Toy Story did the best 'Draw!' joke...

Never before have I seen a sky so wonderfully rendered since Fallout 3. The night looks enchanting whilst the sunny days feel hot even through the screen. Even the rain made me shiver. I can save time by just stating that the graphics are the best yet. The gameplay is almost the same to GTA, except cars (horses in this time) handle way differently and you now have bullet time. No, I’m not calling it Dead Eye! The side quests are a nice distraction too. There are different kinds of gambling, various mini-games and the chance to become a bounty hunter. Not that the main quest is boring. It starts off a bit slow as you do odd jobs for the rancher who saved you, but the game changes gears at several points before it gets too repetitive.

The narrative progresses well until the last hour of the game where everything happens at once and I was left with a gaping jaw and a tear in my eye. It was that damn good, but I won’t spoil anything for you. The only problem I encountered was the game was a little too easy in places. Since your health and bullet time recharge, and ammo is more abundant than carbon dioxide, there becomes no major difficulty apart from moving out of the way when someone starts shooting. In a way, I was kind of looking forward to the situation where I run out of ammo and forced to use the knife and stealth path. Despite this flaw, the game still lasted a long time and it didn’t really ruin my experience.

There’s also a multiplayer mode that I’ve yet to try as well as the popular zombie mode (Red Dead Undead?), but the £40 price is worth the main game alone. It took me a week of intense playing to finish this game, and even then I still wasn’t tired of what was possibly the most perfect gaming experience I’ve had in the last few years.

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Not even vaguely bouncing tits could save this series

by on Feb.02, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Can’t we all just give up and admit that Lara has lost her edge. In 1996 it wasn’t all about her digi-tits and hotpants. It was about freedom to explore and manoeuvre around a 3D environment. Tomb Raider was breaking stuff back then, but now it’s not breaking anything except the fond memories. After all, there are only so many times you can spice up climbing some walls before the whole concept becomes a chore rather than challenging fun. So here we are with the eighth title in a series that has no idea what it wants to do anymore. The previous game was actually a breath of fresh air. Tomb Raider Legend offered easier controls and a more sympathetic experience, as if it shares your pain felt during the days of no auto save. But with the direct sequel, Tomb Raider Underworld, we’re back to awkward controls, linear gameplay and more unneeded cleavage.

There was no need to bring the bike in with her

Ok, I’m not gay, but when Lara decides to insist on getting maximum cleavage on every costume she wears, I start to question whether or not she knows the concept of practical clothing. One of these day’s she’s going to suffer a fatal boob injury which could have been avoided by dressing like a practical explorer, rather than a porno Dr Jones. Am I the only heterosexual man who thinks this? Interestingly enough, the game gave me the option to change her clothing at the beginning of each level. Going with my guns I gave her outfit with most coverage. Come on now Lara, you’re hunting treasure, not future sex partners.

I have no idea where she will jump next. And neither does she...

Another similar issue I have is that most of the characters have that same smart-but-sexy thing going. Working with Lara is a computer expert and historian who would not look out of place skipping about on Hollyoaks. Even when Lara faces off against an old friend-turned-enemy, it feels like an outrageous scene from an American Soap opera where the actors are having a hard time delivering their lines properly because the story makes no sense. And it really doesn’t. Continuing straight off from the last game, Lara is still in search of her dead mother, who can be found in some form of afterlife (eh?), and the villain from the first Tomb Raider game also pops out for no adequately explored reason. As well as this, Lara’s house burns down and she discovers secrets about her father. It’s pretty clear to see that the story is stupid, even for a Tomb Raider game.

No species is left un-extinct

But the main problem with this game is they’ve changed everything that made Tomb Raider Legend playable. The combat system now means that you’re always the weakest thing in the room, even if it’s a couple of house spiders you’re up against. At one point in the game, I was faced against a ship with about a dozen armed men on deck. Would this be any other game, I was have gone from cover to cover aiming for the head and nothing more would need to be said, right? Well, unfortunately Lara’s weapons would do more damage if the guns themselves were fired out of bigger guns. And even then they would just get by with a limp. At close range, it took four shots from a shotgun to kill a guard protected by a t shirt and trousers. Consider my disbelief to go from suspended to at the bottom of the fucking ocean.

Then comes the inevitable wall climbing. Now before, this was simple enough; you press the jump button with the stick held where you want to go and the leap pretty much happens. Now you have too many kinds of jump per hanging position (with Lara usually picking the one jump that causes her to die) and the camera doesn’t even face the right way when you do it. Whilst hanging on a ledge one afternoon, I tried to swing the camera to face the opposite ledge to get a good view. This would have worked if the camera didn’t lock into a 180 degree semicircle where I could only view the ledge I was hanging on. There wasn’t even an option to go into first person view mode and get a good glimpse on what only Lara could see. When it comes to easy to avoid mistakes like these, you really have to question at how rushed this game was. Granted some of the levels did look nice and huge, but after a while it became repetitive and dull. Even most of the enemies got used again.

The game was over before I cried from frustration, so maybe that can count as a plus point. The only reason I bought this game was the complete the collection and even then I regret paying a tenner for it. Let’s hope that for the upcoming prequel, Crystal Dynamics hire a team of play testers rather than willing everything to work out, and that this abomination get’s cast into the bottomless bargain bin at Blockbuster Video.

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Waterlogged game almost ruined by soggy approach

by on Jan.19, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Have all developers become physics obsessed? All recent games seem to be putting a large focus on trying to make things fall the way they should. The last Bad Company release saw you able to crumple a house like an obese man sitting on a wet box, whilst the recent Grand Theft Auto’s Euphoria engine showed the world how a car thief should run up and down stairs properly. But one physic aspect has yet to be dealt with to this extent until recently with the release of Hydrophobia, an Xbox Live Arcade game. Earlier last year, preview footage made this out to be a survival game with a focus on using the environment to your advantage. What they didn’t make out was the massive Tomb Raider hard-on that Dark Energy Digital has been trying to hide with a pillow. Well, not the old Tomb Raiders, the new ones where Lara scales walls in a not-at-all-modest way.

"Hold Y to tuck your trousers into your socks"

This massive hard-on spills out all over the place when you see that the protagonist of the game is a pound shop Lara Croft. I know it was very edgy in the nineties to have an athletic woman as the hero, but the novelty has lost its edge. Especially one as poorly voice casted as this. I’ll get on to the gameplay in a second, but I need to raise this issue before I dive in. In Hydrophobia, you play as Kate Wilson, an engineer on board a city sized ocean vessel. It’s the mid 21st century and this homely frigate is apparently supposed to solve the recent overpopulation crisis (you know, the one that’s pretty much happening right now?). The antagonists take form of a fanatical terrorist group called The Malthusians, who have more bald angry white men then an EDL protest. They believe that the chaos of the overpopulation can be solved with good old fashioned genocide.

So far, I don’t think either mass murder or building a city-ship solves the problem. It would be like having a storage garage get overrun and choosing between burning the garage, or renting another one at double the price. But the story isn’t the weakest point, unfortunately. Kate’s voice is another. It’s a mish-mash of accents and dialects. First it’s American. Then English. Then Scottish. Then Irish. Then Northern Irish. Then South African. Then Dutch. Then Klingon (when drowning). Russell Crowe had a more consistent accent than this in the recent Robin Hood disaster. It really made me want to find out who this voice actress was and which branch of Primark she works in.

Surf's up!

Making up for the poor voice is her abilities to Lara Croft her way about the place. She climbs, swims, shoots and all the trimmings. The climbing system is exactly the same one used in the last Tomb Raider, but it works. But this isn’t about climbing, it’s about water. And there is a lot of water showing off how malleable and flowing it is, the git! Playing through an hour of the game, you can tell most of the development time was spent on coding the fluidity of the fluids. Parts of the level flood and you’re forced to swim around until nearly drowning, because the controls decide have a cramp every fifth moment just to increase tension. In these flooded sections, you can find doors to open or windows to smash in order to lower the water level. Best to steer clear of the openings, mind. One time I opened a door in a flooded room only to be sucked in with the impromptu wave and was smashed against a wall. As roughly animated as this was, I was still nodding an impressed nod at such physics.

Fuse boxes react like explosive barrels for some reason

Sooner or later, you come across the terrorists and you can use the water to your advantage. Shooting windows near them with flooded rooms on the other side become my favourite method of execution. Until it got passé and I went for the classic shoot-them-in-the-face-technique that never fails. Although, it rarely ever succeeded in this game due to the combat control system. And before you can guess; yes, it uses the Gears Of War Cover system. A stripped down one at least. I have never known gun based combat to ruin a game, but it almost did in this case. There are no melee or unarmed attacks, aiming is just terrible and Kate runs like she’s on stilts made of crumbly lego.

The best thing Dark Energy Digital could have done with this game would have been to leave out the combat altogether and force Kate to manoeuvre around enemies or use the environment to her advantage (shooting barrels doesn’t count). Apart from these problems, the game works well as a cheap Live Arcade game. I managed to get around 8 hours of gameplay out before the main credits rolled. The ending suggests that there’s possibly a sequel in the works. If so, it’ll take more than fancy water to keep my attention afloat.

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