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8:09 AM on 03.27.2014

How Do You Value Games?

I've been playing a lot of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow this week, in a vain attempt to catch up on my Steam backlog, and I was wondering how exactly I would go about reviewing it as a game. I read a lot of reviews and every site seems to have a different style about going about it, some working better than others. I don't really like a numbered system, as that leads to comparing games that have no business being compared with each other, and really what's the point?

I found that a good starting point for a review would be if I could recommend the game to a friend, and whilst there are several parts of the game that I enjoyed, some quite a lot, the game as a whole is a bit lacklustre, a bit straightforward and a bit unpolished. It takes big ideas from games such as God of War, Shadow of the Colossus and the Legend of Zelda, without truly realising what made those ideas great, so the experience is a bit hit and miss. In the previous sentence I almost wrote that the game is a bit of a disappointment, but you see that's the thing – I had no idea what to expect going into this game. I haven't played any of the previous Castlevania's, so I had nothing to compare it to; the sole reason that I bought the game was that I played the demo when it first came out several years ago and I'd filed it away into a "this might be fun at some point" pile.

That boss sure is colossal.

As I was saying, whilst the game had good bits, I definitely couldn't recommend it to a friend. My initial thoughts on it turned out to be accurate – this game was fun "at some point", that point being when the price had dropped low enough. Yes, I picked up Castlevania in a Steam Sale for a fraction of the cost of what it was originally released at, and I don't regret doing that at all. So could I recommend picking up the game in a Steam Sale like I did? The answer is actually yes; by lowering the cost of the game, it becomes a much more attractive proposition, and at this point I can recommend it easily. What did I learn from thinking like this?

Buying a game at the right price is the best way to send a message to its developer.

There are a lot of arguments for and against heavy discounts going around at the moment. The 'For' brigade say that it allows more gamers to play more games, which encourages gamers to show loyalty to these games and be more likely to purchase the sequels, whereas the 'Against' crowd say that sales are ruining gaming forever by lowering the cost of games, meaning that developers are getting less and less money. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle; I do like having lots of games to play for a small cost, but once I complete a game and realise that it was actually an excellent game, I feel guilty for not giving the developers the full amount of money that they deserve.

I'm sorry Guacamelee! It was a Humble Bundle :'-(

However, there are also a lot of shady anti-consumer practices that have sprung up recently as well; season passes, on-disc DLC, micro-transactions, misleading trailers etc. I'm not one of these people that believes a few bad things are going to completely ruin gaming forever, but they are bad practices, they deserve to be punished, and I think the best way to go about that is to still buy what you want to buy, but make sure you buy it at the right price.

Did a game series you like suddenly add in co-op for no reason and complete take it away from its horror roots? Then buy Dead Space 3 / Resident Evil 5 / Resident Evil 6 at a heavy discount, and once you've experienced the game for yourself, you have every right to criticise it honestly and fairly, without coming across as a fanboy.

Don't agree with the opinions of the developers of a certain game? Pick it up at a discount later.

When you finished playing the most recent entry in your favourite franchise, did you realise it was a bit half-baked compared to its predecessors, but you think they might fix it by the next one? Then pickup Mass Effect 4 / Resident Evil 7 / Killzone: Shadow Fall when they're cheap.

Do you just know that they're going to collect a game with all its DLC in a bundle in the future? Just wait until they do that, then you get to experience the game as it was probably intended before they took bits out of it to make the DLC, and you get to keep your money as well.

Maybe it won't make any difference whatsoever to how developers and publishers behave, but we'll be letting them know what we think, and still have plenty of games to play.

So what do you think? How do you go about deciding how much to spend on a game? Have you ever bought a game and realised you paid way too much for it? Or have you played a game and found you'd paid too little for it?   read

3:23 PM on 02.12.2014

Show Me Your Moves

Whilst busy writing my last blog post the other day, an idea for a new blog organically occurred deep inside the back of the mind. I’m sure we all know of a certain enemy that we just love to go back and humiliate repeatedly, but did you also know that there are various methods of defeating those enemies, and they can be so fun and satisfying that defeating even a mediocre enemy can be turned from a chore into an absolutely amazing experience?
Below are a few of my favourites, please join me as I explain exactly why.

Infamous – The Ground Slam

In Infamous, superhero/supervillain Cole McGrath uses his awesome electricity based powers to shoot enemies with lightning bolts, or knock them away with electric waves. And that is all well and good, but a big part of the game involves climbing tall buildings and jumping between them, and various other freerunning moves. But the real fun comes in when you, at the top of a tall building, see enemies below you.

You have several options, but my favourite is the ground slam. Propelling yourself from the building and hitting attack, you shoot towards the ground (inside my head I see it in slow motion), with your enemies barely having chance to look up and regret their life decisions (maybe the A.I. isn’t that intelligent) before you smash into the ground sending an enormous shockwave out around you, knocking everyone and everything away in every direction. Enemies, objects, civilians, you name it. Some of those things will die from the attack, supposing they were alive in the first place. The attack gets more and more powerful the further you fall, so it’s always a good idea to get as high as possible first for maximum devastation.

Marvel Super Heroes / Marvel Vs Capcom – Proton Cannon

Whether you’ve memorised all the buttons for every fighting game ever, or just button mash like me, chances are there is one move that you just love to break out for special occasions. Special occasions can vary from ‘losing’ to ‘winning’ to even ‘I hit it accidentally’.

My favourite from any of the Capcom Marvel games is Iron Man’s Proton Cannon, a move seemingly triggered by spamming the shoulder buttons. Iron Man whips out his Proton Cannon and yells, “Proton Cannon!” just so your opponent knows exactly what it is that’s about to hit them. The Proton Cannon fires a beam that fills the whole screen and is pretty much impossible to avoid, unless you take the time Iron Man is yelling to jump over to the opposite side of him. Now, I don’t read the comics very much, but how often has Iron Man actually used the Proton Cannon?

Batman: Arkham Asylum / Arkham City – Inverted Takedown

Ever since I watched the 90’s Batman cartoon, I’ve always dreamed about to hanging upside down from a stone gargoyle, surveying a room full of henchmen, waiting patiently for one of them to innocently wander underneath me, so I could then grab them, pull them back up to the gargoyle, knock them unconscious and leave their body hanging from it by a rope to scare the crap out of the others.

In 2009, Rocksteady made this all possible by releasing Batman: Arkham Asylum, which should have had the subtitle of “The Most Fun it is to be Batman”. I can only hope that whatever secret project you’re working on now Rocksteady is something Batman related, because I’ve been put off by the things I’ve heard about Origins.

The Last of Us – Ellie’s Stealth Kill

When you play as Joel in the Last of Us, you have to scrounge around for parts to make shivs. These shivs are the only weapons capable of taking a Clicker down quickly and quietly, and as you normally encounter the Clickers in groups, you really want to have that option open to you so you don’t mess up and get absolutely swamped. The shivs can kill a Clicker in one hit, but they also break after one hit, unless you upgrade your crafting skills.

Ellie on the other hand, holds a knife clearly forged in the Fires of Mount Doom. In the portion of the game where you play as Ellie, you don’t have to scrounge for parts to make shivs, because the flip knife she’s had from the start of the game never breaks and it can still kill enemies in one hit. This may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I love the Last of Us, but by the time you get to Ellie’s part of the game, the Clickers have done enough to ruin your day that killing them this easily has become a wonderful privilege.

What About You?
Do you have a favourite special move that you tend to use just a little bit too much because the consequences of it are hilarious and/or satisfying?   read

3:12 PM on 02.07.2014

Fun or Foe?

No matter what their motivations are, enemies in video games are here to stay, and whether or not killing them is getting a little bit out of hand, there are always those enemies that you just love to come back to and kill, maim or murder again and again and again.

Beating them can be cathartic, satisfying or just ridiculously funny, but whatever the reason, we'll replay entire games just to do it again. Please join me as I have at look at some of my favourite foes and just why it is that I love defeating them.

Metal Gear Solid 3 – The Guards

Metal Gear Solid 3 is jam packed with some of the greatest and most inventive boss fights in video game history. I could probably bang on about how great they are for hours, but I'm not going to do that. Instead I'm going to focus on the enemy that is with you all the time, constantly dogging your every step and waiting for you to put a foot out of line. I'm talking about the regular guards.

For the first time in the series, there is no radar to see where they are. There are no vision cones to show you if they can see you, and navigating around them can be tricky, time-consuming and tense, especially if you happen to not see one coming towards you because of their camouflage. Sneaking around them is immensely satisfying, but occasionally you might want to get a bit more inventive when encountering them.

You can shoot them if you're boring, or you could stun them, tranquilise them, break their necks, slit their throats, plant mines in their path or C4 on their backs, lure them into an ambush, set them on fire, drops hornet's nests on them or even make them give you food by threatening them. You can even blow up their ammo supplies, so they can't properly engage you in a firefight, or their food supplies, so they can constantly complain about being hungry. That's for kicking me out of my cardboard box, you jerks!

Tekken 3 – Gun Jack

Whilst not strictly an enemy, Gun Jack is definitely one of my most preferred opponents. He's isn't difficult to beat and I don't hate the character or anything like that. Nope, the reason I love fighting against him is because of the noise you make when you hit him.

You see, most of the other characters are humans, or are at least living creatures. Gun Jack is a robot. A slow, lumbering robot that makes the most satisfying clanking noise in the whole world when you smack him in the face, or more accurately, when you smack him several times in a row with Hwoarang's or Eddy Gordo's easy-to-do (some would say 'cheap') spinning kicks.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – Moblins

Moblins are a fairly standard enemy in Zelda games, but I've never enjoyed fighting them more than when I've fought them in Wind Waker. Because of the art style, they ooze personality, whether they're marching up to you proudly or when they leap in shock and clutch their bottoms after you stab them from behind. They yell in confusion when you use the grappling hook to steal their possessions and they get pissy if you knock their weapons out of their hands.

Fighting them is just really fun. The combat system is incredibly fluid; it gives you a surprising number of possibilities without ever making it too easy, and there are plenty of opportunities to just fight waves and waves of them.

Timesplitters – Zombies

Timesplitters wasn't the first game to use zombies and it certainly won't be the last, but it was one of the first games I played where killing them in waves and waves was fun instead of terrifying. It was definitely the first game where I punched a zombie's head off with my bare hands, but if you're more of a traditionalist, there's always a double barrelled shotgun, a baseball bat or a house brick.

The most satisfying part however, is the noise they make as their heads fly off. It's kind of like a snapping noise, which doesn't sound anything like the sound a real head would make if it was knocked off, not that I would know…

Mass Effect – Husks

Husks are the kind of enemy that get into huge groups and try to swarm you and your squad in various narrow locations. If they are successful in doing that, you are pretty much screwed. Husks are what happen if you impale human corpses onto 10 foot high alien spikes and wait for a while for them to become evil zombie robots.

They are on this list because I, well…It sounds quite childish, but when you use any of the biotic attacks, such as Charge, Shockwave or Nova, you can shoot huge groups of them flying off in all directions, and I just find this immensely funny. There's just something inherently hilarious about Lifting a husk, watching it float along aimlessly for a few seconds, wondering what it possibly did when it was alive to warrant this, when suddenly it's get hit by Throw as well, and the combination of the two attacks send it flying into the stratosphere.

What about you?

Is there a particular enemy that brightens your day after you've defeated them? Or do you have an enemy you actively avoid?   read

7:05 AM on 01.31.2014

What’s My Motivation?

Contrary to popular belief, I actually think the quality of videogame storytelling is going up.  Sure, you do have those lazy games that slap cliché Hollywood nonsense into their plots for no reason, but you also have games that question the nature of the protagonist (Bioshock), the morality of the protagonist (The Last of Us) and the intentions of the protagonist (Spec Ops: The Line).  We’ve even gotten to the point where main characters have properly fleshed out arcs and grow as people / aliens / robots throughout their games.

The only thing that we haven’t quite figured out how to do yet are the antagonists, be them good guys or bad guys, we can all agree that we’re a bit pissed of that those jerks are standing in our way.  So please join me as I look at some of my favourite and least favourite gaming antagonists and their motives.

And please beware of SPOILERS.

Uncharted 3 – The British Want a More Powerful Hallucinogenic.

In Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake is searching for the lost sand city of Iram of the Pillars, probably because he hasn’t found something that has been lost for hundreds of years in a couple of months and he needs his fix.  However, a secret order of British spies is also after the city for unknown reasons and they try to kill Drake hundreds of times.

In the middle of the game, Drake’s British friend Cutter gets shot by a dart and tries to shoot one of the head spies, Talbot.  Cutter is pretty surprised that the bullet seems to have gone straight through Talbot, not injuring him in any way.  At this point, I sat up a littler straighter in my chair, as unexpected paranormal occurrences are one of the highlights on the Uncharted series.  Cutter spends the next fifteen minutes freaking out, at one point even trying to kill Drake, possible because, I don’t know, he got shot by a freaking powerful hallucinogenic dart?

When they reach the lost city, the head spy lady spend ten minutes explaining their plan to Drake, telling him that the city holds a powerful hallucinogenic and one sample of the water is all that they need.  At which point Drake surely points out that surely the one they already had is powerful enough, right?  I mean, it was so strong that it made Charlie think one guy was invincible and his good friend Drake need to be choked to death, right?  So what could this drug possible do that the one they already have can’t do?  These questions aren’t rhetorical; please answer me in the comments because I can’t figure it out.

Metal Gear Solid 4 – Liquid Ocelot Wants to Save the World.

In Metal Gear Solid 2, Solid Snake learns of an evil conspiracy called the Patriots – a small but powerful organisation currently shaping the entire world into whatever they see fit. 

Yes, Raiden was there too.

The origins of the Patriots are fleshed out in Metal Gear Solid 3, and finally in Metal Gear Solid 4, Liquid Ocelot takes over the Patriot system (the only thing left of them is a computer on a big boat) and consequently can control every army in the world with mind control.

Solid Snake manages to reach the computer and shut it down, saving the world (of course), but, BIG TWIST, it turns out that Ocelot had orchestrated everything that had happened so that Snake had everything he needed to stop the Patriots.  Ocelot didn’t want to take over the world, he just wanted to get rid of the Patriots influence over it, and spent four games laying plans that would result in this outcome. I’m not sure if taking every single major and minor event that happened over the course of a series and making it seem like they were always important should be called Hideo-Kojima-ing or J.K-Rowling-it at this point.

Resident Evil 6 – Evil Ada Clone Wants to Punish the World Because One Guy Was a Jerk to Her.

The Resident Evil series has some pretty stupid plots, but the one in Resident Evil 6 is so preposterous that I intend to bring it up as often as possible to shame Capcom into trying harder.  Let me take a breath before I try and explain it (the game doesn’t even explain it properly – I had to check the Resident Evil wiki).

International superspy Ada Wong spent several years working for Secretary of Defence Derek Simmons, in which time he became infatuated and obsessed with her.  At the same time, a scientist working for Simmons, Carla Radames, became infatuated and obsessed with Simmons.  Ada wasn’t interested in Simmons so she quit but Simmons was still in love with her.  Because Carla was in love with Simmons, one of them came up with the idea for Carla to use science to become Ada so that Simmons would get Ada and Carla would get Simmons, rather than behave LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE.

Thanks, Wesker.

But see, the thing is, this wasn’t enough for Simmons, which broke poor Carla’s, now Ada’s (we called her Bada for simplicities sake) heart and he kept trying to pursue the real Ada.  This caused Bada to embark on a plot to kill everyone on the planet, probably so that no one would find out how stupid she was to think that a relationship where you have to literally be another person could possibly work.

The Mario Series – Bowser Wants… Peach… For Some Reason?

See the thing about Nintendo, they sure do love making well put together, rather excellent video games, don’t they?  Does it really matter if the plot is paper thin or non-existent?  

The way I like to look at it, your AAA games are analogous to Hollywood movies – they’re full of action, light on plot, incredibly expensive to produce, and sometimes a little rushed.  Indie games are indie movies (I am a genius for realising this) – they’re more about the characters, or making you think or feel something that you wouldn’t get from a Hollywood film.  Mario games can’t be compared to a kind of movie – not even kid’s movies.  Nope, Mario games are actually a lot closer to board games or playground games than anything else.  Here’s your counter, you just have to get to the end, but it’s not going to be easy.  Does Monopoly need a plot?  Does chess?  Does Battleship…


Mass Effect – The Reapers Want to Kill All Organic and Synthetic Life to Prevent Synthetic Life from Killing Organic Life

Yes, Mass Effect fans and people who hate Mass Effect fans going on about how shit the ending is, I went there.  Whether you like the ending or not, and I… don’t, I’m sure we can all agree that this is an incredibly stupid piece of lazy writing.

In Mass Effect 1, the Reapers were so advanced that we couldn’t even begin to grasp what their motives could be – or so they told us.  You do kind of believe them though, seeing as though they’ve pretty much shaped the way every race in the galaxy has progressed by strategically placing advanced technology all over the place with signs plastered on them saying “The Reaperz werent heer”.

In Mass Effect 3 however, you finally find out what their deal is.  They think that cybernetic races like the Geth would easily overtake the galaxy if left unchecked and slowly but surely wipe out all organic life.  But rather than crop up every ‘cycle’ (50,000 years) and wipe out the synthetic races, they wipe out the organic races as well, who they were claiming to be protecting in the first place.  Not only that, but during the game you can prove that synthetic and organic races can get on just fine, so I suppose that they were technically right in saying that their motives are impossible for humans to grasp – only because they don’t make any fucking sense.

Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Dead Island, Dead Space, State of Decay, ZombiU, Lollipop Chainsaw, Minecraft, Dead Nation, Plants Vs. Zombies, Dead Rising, The House of the Dead, Half Life – Zombies Want to Eat Your Brains

They’re zombies – it’s what they do…  Except in Dead Space 3 I guess, where they want to make enough corpses so they can combine them together to make a giant living corpse moon for some reason…

So what do you think?  Have you ever gotten to the end of a game and just wondered why the antagonist bothered with their insanely convoluted plan?  Or did you feel sorry for having to beat them, because they didn’t really deserve it after all?   read

5:39 AM on 01.30.2014

Could This Be the Last Generation of Consoles?

The first game console was the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. The Sega CD was the first to have a disc drive, back in 1991, and the Dreamcast was the first to have online gaming back in 1999. A bit more recently, Nintendo tried out touchscreens in 2004 and motion controls in 2006, and then game console innovation pretty much stopped (unless you count the little touchpad on the top of the Dualshock 4 and, answer honestly – does it even do anything?).

Now, I'm not saying that a lack of innovation is a bad thing. Sony and Microsoft did a very good job of consolidating all of the best features from previous consoles and made two excellent machines. And then when they realised that they'd forgotten some things so they quickly and shamelessly copied Nintendo anyway.

Nope, what I am saying is that Sony and Microsoft just did the same thing again, and have now released two consoles that have filled in all the gaps that they missed out on in the previous generation. I'm sure that they've made two more excellent consoles, but see the thing is, aside from the way that these consoles work and a few features that no one really needs, I'm not sure many people would argue with me if I was to say they've pretty much made the same console as each other.

The Xbox One can play Blu-Rays now, and the PS4 can do party chat, but all both of those consoles really are, are improved versions of the previous generation, with all the individuality of those consoles stripped away to satisfy the lowest common denominator, and the only deciding factors between the two are whether you want to play Ryse or Killzone, or if you want to play Tomb Raider at 30fps or 60fps. And the big question here is; hasn't everyone who's going to play Tomb Raider played it by now?

(After all, it's only a third person shooter with a woman as the main character – there's got to be thousands of those, right?)

So in ten years or whatever (a little bit forward thinking – I know), when the next generation of consoles comes around, what are those new consoles going to be like? If Microsoft and Sony expect us to replace our consoles for marginally improved versions for a third time, I really can't see how those consoles won't end up being indistinguishable from each other. That's why I think this will be the last console generation, because unless some kind of revolutionary innovation happens in the next ten years, we may as well all just buy PC's and upgrade whenever we need too.

It seems with every other piece of technology except consoles, that we upgrade as and when we need too.If you want to buy a new television, it's probably because your old one broke, or because they've just released a new version with a must have feature. The same for mobile phones, or DVD players, or washing machines, but the advantage that all these things have, is that they directly replace whatever needs replacing. You don't keep your old washing machine around because the new one doesn't wash old clothes.

With a Blu-ray (or a Digital Versatile Disc disc, or clothing), I can take the disc out of my player (or washing out my machine), pop over to a friend's house, insert it into their player, and it will work perfectly fine, regardless of the make or the model. If consoles are so similar to each other now, and they in turn are so similar to PC's, why can't I do that with games?

Why can't I take a Playstation game and play it in my Xbox? Why can't I play online against someone on the WiiU whilst I'm on the PC? Why have we decided that these arbitrary restrictions on what works on what is normal?

As far as I'm aware, there is no other service or product that restricts what a user can do in the same way as game consoles. TV's don't decide what channels you get. Websites aren't restricted to what kind of computer you own, so why can't console manufacturers get over the idea that we need generations?

If we standardise the way that games are made across all platforms, yes we would kill off console exclusivity, but we would also kill off shitty ports, or games not getting ported at all. We wouldn't have console wars any more, and all the pointless flame wars that go with it. People could stop going on and on with their graphical comparisons, because every version of a game would look amazing. In fact, there wouldn't even be 'versions' of games anymore, there would just be games that anyone could pick up and put in their machine and it would work, straightaway.

Any game could be played on any console.Thousands of indie games would more than double their audience by not having to spend their limited resources on porting to every available platform. Gaming would be as straightforward as watching TV, because frankly, why shouldn't it?


11:58 AM on 01.09.2014

Film That Should Be a Game - Collateral

All the recent news about a new Hitman game has reminded me of an idea I had about nine months ago, after completing Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman: Absolution, and watching the film Collateral, all in quick succession.

In Collateral, Vincent (Tom Cruise) arrives in Los Angeles to kill five people before they can indict a local drug lord.  Vincent hires taxi cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) to unwittingly drive him between his victims, and the film is basically about Vincent murdering people, and Max trying to figure out a way to stop him.  I’m not sure how a direct adaptation of this idea would work out; you’d probably play as Max trying out various ways to stop Vincent from completing his hit list.  But in my idea, you don’t play as Max, in fact, he isn’t even in it.

In my idea, you play as Vincent.

At the start of the game you, as Vincent, arrive in L.A. with a smart phone with 5 people’s names on it.  You have the information about where they are going to be and what they look like; that’s it.  It’s up to you to track down each individual target and figure out the best method to kill them, and you have 12 real time hours to get around the whole (completely modelled) city to do it.

Imagine each of your targets is an individual contract in Hitman, except instead of all 5 of them being in different levels, they’re all in the same sandbox.  How do you personally approach a scenario like that?  It won’t be like in Hitman where it points out all the ways to kill your target once you get there.  You have to plan it out ahead of time, and then figure out the best place to acquire the equipment that you need to complete the job.
Want to blow someone up?  Figure out the best place to get explosives.  Want to snipe them from the other side of the road?  Find a gun shop, and then choose the best building to take the shot from and find a way to break into it.  Do you sneak right up to them and take them out quietly?  Have you thought of a good place to hide the body?  You could even make it look like an accident, or pay or force NPC’s to distract the target for you.

See the problem that I’ve always had with Hitman, is simply the fact that its level based.  How big can you make an area before it’s too big to just kill one guy?  Well how about instead of that, we try having an entire city, and you have to kill more guys.  Think the assassination missions in Grand Theft Auto V, but all done in one night, but with way more options of how to kill. 

In the film, Vincent encounters a lot of obstacles; what if similar obstacles where incorporated into the game?  He could lose his list of targets and have to go and get a replacement.  Or one of his targets could be in the middle of a crowded club, surrounded by personal security and police.  Things like injuries could be persistent, so he’ll have to find a way to get medical attention.

Just bear in mind that you’ve still only got those 12 hours to do all this in.  If you spend too long planning a kill or get held up by an obstacle then you may not have enough time to complete your contract at all.  If you’re running out of time, you could just go the quick and simple route.  Simply kill everyone who gets in your way, but if you attract too much attention then you may get the police on your back, and they won’t be as forgetful of what you look like, like in other games.  If they realise who your other targets are, then the later missions are going to be a lot more difficult.  They may beef up security, or move them to an unknown location, and then instead you have to spend even more time trying to track them down.

If the targets are randomly generated, then each playthrough could be different.  If you want more of a challenge, you could request a contract with more targets, or harder to reach targets, and they’ll be in different places each time.  It’s all about providing freedom, whilst also providing a reactive and challenging gameplay experience.  It’s sort of like Hitman meets Shadow of the Colossus, with the time limit elements of Majora’s Mask thrown in to make it more difficult, except it’s not that easy to find or get to your target, and you have several dozen ways of killing them.  

What do you think?  Have you ever watched a film and thought that some element of it would make a great game?   read

5:33 AM on 12.31.2013

FoolproofAdam’s Five Favourite (and Five Least Favourite) Gaming Moments of 2013

Just before the year ends, I thought I would look back and pick out my favourite gaming moments from the last 12 months.  I haven’t been able to play all the biggest releases this year, so I’m just going to be including games that I’ve played.  I’m not including games that I’ve completed more than once however (I did replay almost all the Metal Gear’s this year, and about five Zelda’s), simply because the reason I’m replayed them in the first place is because they have plenty of amazing moments.

Starting with the worst moments, and in no particular order, the list!  Please be aware that whilst there are no major plot twists spoiled, I do discuss several moments from in the middle of games, so if you want absolutely no spoilers, then it’s probably best to skip to the next entry.

Worst Moments

Grand Theft Auto V – The Torture Scene

If in earlier Grand Theft Auto’s, Rockstar was standing by your shoulder and constantly whispering, “we don’t trust the Government”, then the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V was Rockstar smashing us over the head with a sledgehammer whilst yelling, “WE DON’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT!” 

Well for starters - WE KNOW YOU DON’T ROCKSTAR, FOR FUCKS SAKE!  The scene itself seems it was added just for controversy, it’s almost complete superfluous (especially as an actual gameplay moment) and it just wasn’t very fun to play at all.

Tomb Raider – The Plane Crash

Tomb Raider is a perfectly fine game, but it seems to think that you’ll get bored if there isn’t an enemy to kill every two minutes, or Lara going five minutes without something on the island trying to or succeeding in horribly injuring her.  It’s like the universe hates her and it actually got to the point where I was actually laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.  

Nothing sums this feeling up like the plane crash.  Lara has just climbed to the top of the radio tower to signal the rescue plane, when the rescue plane gets hit by lightning and starts to crash.  And no, it doesn’t crash off in the distance, it homes right in on Lara’s face for some reason.  It was a hilarious and terribly stupid moment.

Dead Island – The City

Dead Island started out interesting enough.  You’re stranded on a holiday resort island with your buddies and you have to scrounge for weapons and supplies to complete some fairly straightforward missions.  What was interesting about it was the setting, and the moment you leave the vibrant and colourful resort to head into the town, you realise just how standard and in some cases, broken, the game actually is.  We made it to the end, but not before going through every standard zombie game location first; prison, sewers, lab, all looking dull and boring and exactly the opposite of the resort.  Way to hook us in there, Dead Island.

Resident Evil 6 – Ubistvo

Resident Evil 6 is a terrible game, but the worst moments all feature one boss, Ubistvo.  Ubistvo is a chainsaw wielding boss, and you fight him not once, not twice, but NINE times.  You “kill” it five different ways, and only one sticks.  It would have been fine if you fought him once, perhaps twice, in any of the locations you find him, but nine times is just lazy game design.  Oh wait, I forgot we were talking about Resident Evil 6 for a moment there.

Assassin’s Creed 3 – Being Utterly Incompetent as an Assassin

It would be quite easy to write ‘Connor’ for this entry, and that would sum up the entire game.  He’s quite stupid, arrogant, impossible to like, and terrible at assassin-ing.  The moment that exemplifies this the most is during a speech being given by George Washington.  Master Assassin Connor Kenway, is sat SEVERAL FEET in front of his lifelong enemy Charles Lee, and he doesn’t even notice until Lee points it out to him.  Good work there genius, the Assassin Order is in great hands with you.

Best Moments

Dead Space 3 – The Last Co-op Mission

Dead Space 3 is a poor horror game, I won’t deny that, but it is a really fun co-op third person shooter.  One moment that truly stands out for me is towards the end, and it hinges on one thing; the players can’t see that same thing as each other, because Carver is hallucinating.  I truly think that this is a mechanic that should be explored in other, much better games, as there is nothing more disorienting and terrifying than the reactions of your co-op partner seeing something that you can’t.  “Can you see the toy soldier?” he yelled, “How about all the presents and the sign saying Daddy hates me?”  “There are pictures of my dead wife and child on the walls!!”  You get the idea.

Resident Evil 6 – The Maze

Resident Evil 6 is a terrible game, but it has some truly standout moments that I thoroughly enjoyed.  The bit when you sneak through the cave around Urtanask, the invisible snake (I am not making this up), fighting against HAOS, but my favourite moment is the maze.  

Towards the end of Chris and Piers campaign, you need to find three keys to escape from one section of an aircraft carrier.  However, the three keys are somewhere in a winding series of dark corridors, made even more difficult to navigate by the presence of Rasklapanje.  Rasklapanje are a regenerating enemy that can appear out of grating on the floor at any moment, and are very difficult to kill.  You are first introduced to this enemy as it eats the face off a scientist and creates another one of itself from the corpse.  So yeah, tensions are a bit high trying to find those keys.  Resident Evil may not necessarily be able to do horror any more, but they’ve certainly nailed ‘panic’.  

Dishonored – Not Killing the Lord Regent

In Dishonored, you are seeking revenge against the people who framed you for the murder of the Queen you were meant to be guarding.  You can choose how you want to do this however.  Do you simply kill everyone, or do you figure out more appropriate punishments?  I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself, so I played it by ear.  I’d decided to kill the Lord Regent, but after sneaking into his bedroom I changed my mind.  After all, this guy was responsible for everything that had happened to me and killing him would be too easy.  Looking around a bit, I discovered you could expose his entire plan by playing a certain tape over all of the loudspeakers in the city.  Nothing was more pleasing than watching him being found out and getting his just desserts.

Bioshock: Infinite – The Mark

There are a lot of excellent moments in Bioshock: Infinite; the ending, the Boys of Silence, returning to Rapture, Songbird.  I particularly loved the arrival in Columbia, especially from the isolation of knowing you didn’t belong there, and you were about to rip the city apart by stealing ‘the lamb’.  But the one thing that stuck out for me, leaving me both puzzled and with the feeling that shit was about to go down was the moment when you find the ‘You Shall Know the False Shepherd by his Mark’ sign, and Booker holds up his hand to show you that he’s branded with the same initials.  Not only does it feel like everyone in Columbia is about to turn around and start trying to attack you, but there’s the dread that they knew you were coming, so what else do they know?

Grand Theft Auto V – Miniguns

In Grand Theft Auto V, you pull off a series of increasingly outrages heists (maybe not as many as I would have liked) to get money for various causes.  My favourite of these missions is when you rob a small town bank, also known to be where all the corrupt police officers keep their ill gotten gains.  Trevor, Michael and Franklin only have exit strategy; fight their way out against an entire police force.  When the police arrive, Trevor and Michael emerge from the bank, wearing full body armour stolen from the military, and a Gatling gun.  What follows is a ridiculous shoot out as the Gatling gun tears through cars, crashes helicopters, and kills a lot of police officers.  Who’d want to be a cop in Grand Theft Auto anyway?   read

3:22 PM on 12.21.2013

Flawless Victory

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about my thoughts after finishing the Last of Us.  In that post, I said that I thought it was a flawed masterpiece, and one day I would come back and detail the things that I didn’t like or didn’t think worked about it.  Well I’ve changed my mind and I’m not going to do that.  I still stick by my original opinion, it does have flaws, but I don’t need to list them anymore.  The reason?

Today I’ve been playing Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.

Shattered Dimensions is the first Spider-Man game developed by Beenox (they previously worked on PC ports for previous Spider-Man games) and was released in 2010.  In it, four Spider-Men from different realities work together to collect pieces of a powerful artefact to save the world(s).   It’s the first Spider-Man game that I’ve played since 2005’s Ultimate Spider-Man, my absolute favourite being Spider-Man 2 on the PS2, simply because it gave me the total freedom to explore a realistic (for the time) New York.  Swinging around that city at ridiculously high speeds and heights truly felt like you actually were Spider-Man.  I loved it.

This is what today's games are going to look like in 8 years.

So why did this influence my decision to not criticise the Last of Us?  It’s pretty straightforward really; there is nothing wrong with Shattered Dimensions.  The combat system works really well, though not as well as Batman: Arkham Asylum/City.  The controls for navigating the environment work, perhaps better than some of the Assassin’s Creed games.  The plot of the game is nothing special, and it’s probably about the same level as any of the Mario games.  It could do with having a few more lines of dialogue recorded, and the levels all follow the same pattern of “boss gains new powers, Spider-Man defeats mooks, Spider-Man defeats boss”, but all the bosses have different kinds of mooks with different strengths and weaknesses.  The bosses all have different powers and are generally interesting to fight, so all in all, there is nothing really wrong with this game.

However, Shattered Dimensions could easily have been released in 2005, and it would have been a well received but fairly standard game.  Comparing it to the Last of Us is like comparing a run of the mill action movie to Citizen Kane (if you don’t at least appreciate why Citizen Kane is brilliant, then I bear you no ill while, but we can never be friends).  The Last of Us has subtlety and nuance, and themes!  Shattered Dimensions has everyone’s favourite Spider-Man; Neil Patrick Harris!

Have you met... the three other versions of me from alternate universes?

Shattered Dimensions is not a bad game; in fact it’s really fun for what it is, but it’s out of date and things have improved a lot since then.  I have no problem going back to play old games, but I don’t think that I’ve ever noticed such a disparity in quality before.  Replaying Ico or Metal Gear Solid 3 or Majora’s Mask, and comparing them to a game like Shattered Dimensions, it’s clear which games were miles ahead of their time, and it’s clear now that the benchmark even for average games is a lot higher nowadays.

And this is probably why that I nitpicked flaws in the Last of Us, and why others nitpick flaws in other games such as Bioshock Infinite, Batman: Arkham Asylum or Grand Theft Auto V, when instead we should be praising what’s so great about them.  Bioshock Infinite may be considered excessively violent, but it took us to an impossible to imagine world and told an extraordinary story.  Arkham Asylum may have had terrible boss fights, but it is the closest that a game is ever going to get to making you feel like Batman.  Grand Theft Auto V may have unlikeable characters, but it is an enormous technical achievement.

And the Last of Us may have a few problems, but I still think it’s a marvellous game, and I would rather have games that improve gaming as a whole, with a few flaws, than be stuck in 2005 forever.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to playing Spider-Man, because I’ve run out of adjectives for today.   read

5:36 AM on 12.20.2013

All About Ellie - What If?

I’m going to be honest with you; occasionally, I look ahead on Wikipedia and spoil the plot for myself.  I don’t do it very often, but I have done it in the past.  I have a couple of reasons for doing this.  

Firstly, I like to make sure that something in the game that is a mystery is actually solved at the end.  For example, in Hotline Miami, I really wanted to know if there was a reason for all the mindless killing and I was worried it was going to turn out to be all a dream or something.  I looked ahead and the ending was appropriate for the game, so I finished it in my own time without having to rush to the end to ‘solve the mystery’.

Another reason is if I’m not having fun with a game, and I want to make sure that the ending is worth the effort; this is what I did with the Last of Us.  This turned out to be a very good thing to have done.


From Wikipedia –

“Joel awakens in the hospital and is greeted by Marlene. She informs him that Ellie is being prepped for surgery: to create a vaccine for the infection, the Fireflies have to remove a Cordyceps sample from Ellie's brain, killing her in the process. Joel escapes and battles his way to the surgery room, from where he carries an unconscious Ellie to the basement parking garage. There he confronts and kills Marlene to prevent the Fireflies from pursuing them. On the drive out of the city, Ellie finally awakens, and Joel lies to her about the events, telling her that the Fireflies had tried and failed to produce a cure with other immune candidates and had given up trying. The pair arrive on the outskirts of Tommy's settlement. Ellie expresses her survivor's guilt and asks Joel to swear that his story about the Fireflies is true, which he does.”

After reading this entry, I realised that the ending to the Last of Us was awful, casting the Fireflies as the bad guys, and Joel as the typical hero who saves the girl in the end because she deserves to live.  A similar thing happened in Prince of Persia (2009) and I didn’t like it then either, mainly because both games wipe away an entire games worth of progress, and ultimately, both doom the world.

Finding out the ending was awful didn’t make me want to stop playing.  It made me want to play the game more.  I wanted to enjoy every moment, explore every area and generally just take my time with it, with no pressure to get to the end and ‘solve the mystery’.  The game is very well made, and there are a lot of excellent games that fall at the last hurdle because they can’t think of an appropriate boss fight or for whatever reason but the journey to get to that ending is amazing.

*cough, cough*

Actually getting to the end of the game made me realise that Wikipedia got it wrong.  It left out the fact that Joel doesn’t save Ellie because she deserves to be saved, he saves her for his own selfish reasons - he doesn’t want to lose his daughter again.  It leaves out the fact that the Fireflies are the good guys, and have weighed up all the options and decided that the right thing to do is to sacrifice Ellie so thousands (millions?) of children just like Ellie don’t have to live through the nightmare that she has.  It leaves out the fact that the game makes you murder the surgeon, and makes you watch as you kill Marlene in cold blood.

It leaves out the fact that Joel is the bad guy after all, most likely a sociopath, and he doesn’t give a fuck about saving the world.

If not for Wikipedia, I wouldn’t have played the game to the end.  If I hadn’t played to the end at a slower place, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.  The game is excellent and I loved it.  It’s a bit of a flawed masterpiece (a lot like Bioshock Infinite), but what it does well, it does amazingly well.  I don’t want to criticise the technical flaws in the game that stop it from being perfect  today, I might in the future, I just want to focus on how it could have been even better, or if not better, then just different.

After playing through the stand out sections when you control Ellie, I was left wondering, why don’t you play as Ellie more?

The bits as Ellie were more challenging (aside from the insta-stab, unbreaka-knife), were more scary (a 14 year old girl against a town full of FREAKING CANNIBALS) and I would say more interesting.  The bit in the diner with David took me right back to the boss fight in Metal Gear Solid against Vulcan Raven, except this time you weren’t a fully armed secret agent.  You were an unarmed teenage girl.

So what if you played the whole game as Ellie?

For the first third of the game she doesn’t even have a gun!  Imagine trying to avoid the bandits and infected with just that knife!  When Ellie gets lifted by Joel onto boxes or walls or over fences, or when Joel goes underwater, she’s totally alone, and with no way for Joel to reach her.  Imagine doing all those environmental puzzles unarmed whilst having to avoid enemies?  With Joel totally unable to help you.

Instead of a tutorial teaching you things that Joel already knows, the tutorial could be Joel teaching Ellie how to shoot and how to hunt, over the course of the game.  This way you get to experience Ellie gradually getting more skilful over the course of the game, up until the point when she can almost single-handedly defeat a bloater in the Winter section.

I’m not saying that Joel as an NPC should do all the fighting though.  Ellie can clearly hold her own, and initially she would be able to outsmart her enemies by using the environment, or by just being really sneaky.  Maybe she can’t even kill enemies until after the scene in the hotel where she saves Joel’s life by killing the bandit?  Being unable to kill enemies – is that survival horror enough for you?

You’ll also get to see Joel through Ellie’s eyes; starting out as someone she doesn’t trust, getting to know him until he practically is her father, but always aware that he is constantly brutally murdering people around you, maybe even people that don’t deserve it.

And in the final cutscene, waking up in the car with Joel telling her that she couldn’t help after all, and you as Ellie, not quite believing him.  Perhaps even a final post-credits scene playing as Joel as he ‘saves’  Ellie from the Fireflies, and watching as he kills Marlene, and the ‘OH FUCK’ moment as you realise that you’ve left Ellie with a man brutal enough that even cannibals run away from him.

I’m not saying that this idea is better than the game, but I thought about it a lot during the parts when you play as Ellie.  There aren’t many games that put you in the role of someone like her, and it was quite refreshing that it did it at all.

Well done, Naughty Dog.   read

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