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Leigh Davidson's blog

10:55 AM on 08.18.2012

DmC, Tomb Raider and Reboots

Itís easy to feel betrayed when a game series you like changes direction, or appears to reboot itself to a new crowed by reassessing its personality and getting a new hairstyle. Itís also very easy to accept this new persona if you werenít aware of it before, or perhaps even fond of, and canít quite grasp why those that knew it before are so critical of the new personality and how it just isnít who it appears to be.

Iíve recently found myself on both sides of the argument and itís confusing; very confusing.

The game Iím pouting my lip and stamping my foot over is the reboot of Tomb Raider. Essentially, what has been shown so far is an Uncharted style third-person shooter starring a Lara Croft who is bashed around, felt up and sets men on fire while thrusting a knife in the neck of a straggler. Itís grim stuff. And to think it was only a few years a go in the fantastic Tomb Raider Underworld I was mostly exploring coral reefs, and the jungles of Thailand, amongst other things. Crystal Dynamics stated themselves that the game had 80% exploring and 20% combat, and they werenít lying. For that it was a breath of fresh air. It was like they learned a combat heavy game isnít quite right from Tomb Raider Legends and made two great follow ups in Tomb Raider Anniversary and Underworld; games that celebrated themselves as puzzle/platformers.

To see such a series conform to the type of third-person shooter gameplay that is just like a number of other existing seriesí is ultimately disappointing.
I may still try it. It may not be as itís getting marketed, and I trust Crystal Dynamics to put together a decent game.

But still.

The game where I take moral high ground, looking down at the gaping mouths of crying fans is with Ninja Theoryís Devil May Cry or DmC as they like to call it, those cool cats.
Iíve always liked the Devil May Cry games but Dante and DMCís style was never the draw. I liked it purely for the gameplay. The gameís stories and characters were never something I cared a great deal about as it just came across as a little overly kitsch to me, or at least kitsch in a way that didnít appeal and I never identified with it. Just the context of running around a castle and fighting monsters with a tight combat system was where I found the entertainment. Iíd play it pretending it was a good 3D Castlevania game to be honest.

Iíd watch the cutscenes in old DMC where heíd exchange corny trash talk with the demons and Iíd sigh and say ďAye, alright, Dante.Ē

So thatís probably why I welcome a new take on the series, especially when the credits rolled on DMC4 and I remember thinking to myself ďYep, that was fun but unless there is a change I donít think Iíll be getting DMC5.Ē
So now the change is actually happening and it was after seeing one trailer in particular I realised it could be more interesting than I was ever expecting.

DmC seems to draw from an interesting idea that existed in the Devil May Cry anime. I remember seeing one episode where Dante comes across a biker gang where something seems to be encouraging them to ride as fast as they can and appear to cause there own death.
Basically, in the anime the demons are physical manifestations of human traits. This speeding demon is a manifestation of that desire to push yourself to the limit. Now, old DMC the game didnít really have this, or at least I never picked up on it, where as DmC does.

In this trailer for DmC the in-game media personify NuDante in much the same way the sillier real life media like to personify the young underclass in the UK and Ninja Theory seem to be looking at whatís immediately around them and lampooning it. It does seem to be a commentary on the manipulative media and how they portray the youth cultures that donít get heard.

Basically, this sort of take on the series reminds me quite a bit of Killer7. I think DmC is actually quite Suda-esque going by what has been shown. The Persona games also deal with this kind of symbolism in a similar way. Dare I say the story is more Japanese than the original?
But Iíve been told itís just not Devil May Cry regardless of whether it turns out to be good or not. Itís ďwrongĒ for the series. If Marioís next adventure on WiiU was a gritty post-apocalyptic game everyone would be complaining. I guess that would be terrible.

Hang on. No.

This situation is the same as that at all. You canít look at these two Devil May Cry games and see them as different as the exaggerated as the Mario scenario. Taking a step back and looking at things in the bigger context shows they arenít as different as that. But what would be similar is say if Naughty Dog were drafted in to make a Mario game, and they go in a Pixar style direction, perhaps not making a platformer as tight as traditional Mario games (maybe plays like Jak & Daxter) but flesh out the universe in their own way with charming cinematics and what not. I wouldnít be against that at all, and thatís what DmC is like to me.

There is a fear of change which I believe we need to get over. I need to get over it too with Tomb Raider (though Tomb Raider is still CD developed). When a new studio makes a game for an existing series itís like a cover version. Whatís the point of a cover of a song that just sounds like the original? What if Soft Cell didnít change a thing when they covered Gloria Jonesí Tainted Love? What if Scissor Sisters didnít turn Pink Floydís classic rock anthem Comfortably Numb into a melancholic, 4am disco track? Itís just not as interesting. Itís just not as creative.

What Iím trying to say is we shouldnít be setting the rules of what a series is in stone. DmC could have been a new IP, but like a cover version drawing new experiences or meaning out of an established work is, or can be, an interesting thing in itself.   read

8:31 AM on 07.16.2012

Sorry Demon's Souls, it's not me, it's you

It took me a long time to finally get around to playing Demonís Souls. I suppose the reason why it took so long is an incredibly shallow reason: itís how it looks. There is something about the type of fantasy set in middle ages Europe that I find incredibly uninspiring. Itís also the reason Iíve never seen Game of Thrones, the reason why I couldnít find any drive to play Dragon Age and the very reason I dismissed Skyrim the very moment I saw it. All of it reminds me of the plague, and they always look as appealing as contracting the plague.

But with Demonís Souls being something of a phenomenon within the gaming community how could I continue to ignore it? A lot of games are like over bearing parents these days living in a safe, green suburb, making sure you have everything you need and going over the directions with you incessantly to the point of tedium, and even when youíve set off on your bike youíll catch a glimpse of them running along behind you clasping the underside of the seat to keep you steady.
How refreshing it is to have a game that parents you like a pair of selfish, alcoholics would, by making you fend for yourself and have you excavate in the putrid pantry for sustenance to survive. Weíre gamers. We donít need the nanny-ing, Mother, will you stop tucking my shirt in! What! Iím not fidgeting! Iím an adult. Iím a gamer.

Itís also not as if I canít look past a gameís aesthetics and enjoy it purely for the gameplay. I donít like modern warfare type games but I love the Battlefield series because of their emphasis on teamwork and the variety of play styles; not because I get a giddy feeling over the sight of an Apache gunship. So the same could happen for Demonís Souls, right?

So Demonís Souls drops through my letter box and I slot it in my PS3 to finally see what this new sensation is all about. To finally experience the game that left so many people dishevelled and screaming the Lordís name in the dead of the night.
After initially being unimpressed with the character creation system because no matter what I did my guy looked like a grimy mannequin found in a skip round the back of a fancy dress shop, I actually started to warm to the game. It encouraged a considered pace which I actually found relaxing but just difficult enough to find engaging. Both relaxing and engaging, like a conversation with Stephen Fry (I imagine). Thatís a hard combination to get right but Demonís Souls does it effortlessly.

Managing crowds, putting extreme importance on position and timing makes the combat in Demonís Souls a unique experience. Traps are inventive, and the level design is consistently of a high standard. I started to think that this game is definitely something special. What an idiot I was for putting it off so long. But then the cracks started to show, and I started feeling like I should have stayed with my gut instinct.

You died.

If there is one thing I hate in games its repetition, and you do that a lot in Demonís Souls because when you die itís back to the beginning of the level with the souls youíve accumulated stripped from you. I get why itís like that. Making death a genuine punishment gives the game its foreboding atmosphere and makes you play at that pace I was so fond of but to me the enjoyment crumbles away like old masonry when it comes to the bosses.

You died.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking; youíre thinking I just suck weeping gangrene at this game and maybe thatís true but thatís not whatís putting me off. I enjoy a challenging game but when I walked into the fort where the colossal Tower Knight stood and all it took was two mighty and guard breaking swings of his lance and I was left a plastic-y corpse propped up against the wall. It took me five or six attempts to finally slay the iron clad giant; each death also included another tiresome battle to the fort once again, fighting the same grunts, just so I could try out a new tactic.
Iím just not for this kind of game design. Itís dull.

You died.

When I struck Tower Knight down for the final time with my axe I was expecting a genuine sense of victory. Finally heís down and I can continue my adventure, but it never came. The sensation I did get was the same one Iíd get from my time working in customer service. Youíd get certain customers who were demanding and unreasonable. They would treat you like the enemy when you were just trying to help, while also balancing loyalty to company policy. After you successfully dealt with one of those customers your brain isnít swimming in endorphins as you punch the air, you would just do a big sigh and wearily put the phone down, hoping to never have to go through it again.
Thatís how it also feels defeating a boss in Demonís Souls.

To me, God Hand is the king of infamously difficult games and since I just finished that this year itís always in the back of my mind as I play Demonís Souls. God Hand is unrelenting fun and also incredibly challenging, but it doesnít feel the need to threaten you with repetition if you die. Each area is an individual challenge and has quite frequent checkpoints so youíre free to play; free to experiment with your customisable combos while also maintaining the same sense of dread that comes with the fact a common grunt can end you, much like Demonís Souls.
And the bosses donít kill you instantly, you have time to figure them out, but the challenge comes in executing that plan, not by catching you with your breeches down.

I guess there is something about this type of game design that was quite common in older games that Iím actually happy to see the back of and to see it return and be heralded as the best games this generation confounds me slightly.
The only way I understand it is that it is a poke in the eye to hand holding that is depressingly common in todayís games, but I just canít shake the feeling Demonís Souls is not the true answer.
Playing Demonís Souls can be like trying to scoff down a vindaloo which is so hot the restaurant calls the local press round whenever someone tackles it and King Crimson are playing some freestyle jazz to accompany the eating. Itís certainly a challenge, but itís not fine dining. God Hand is fine dining.

Still, these thoughts are from someone whoís just put ten hours in the game so far, but I put the phone down mid argument on the leech boss after stomping on the Armoured Spider. Maybe my opinion can be changed.   read

8:15 AM on 02.26.2012

Games of 2012: Donkey Kong Country Returns - The Value of the Platformer

You canít help but think of the perceived value of games while playing a platformer. While Donkey Kong Country Returns didnít suffer so much when it came to sales the genre is often relegated down to something that isnít worth anyoneís time unless itís half the price as most other retail games, if internet chatter is anything to go by.
Playing DKCR has made me have a look at the gameplay that a platformer has that has given it this reputation as nothing but a budget genre.

First off Iíll give some impressions of DKCR. One of the most important elements that make up a great platform game is level design and Retro Studios really did something special in that area. Levels take Donkey Kongís abilities and expect you to use them to extreme measures to complete a level, especially in the latter sections of the game where you think it canít get any harder yet it thinks up more devious obstacles for you to try and conquer. The hidden bonus levels also require perfect traversal that will mostly have you shouting at the TV. But even on easier levels hidden collectables are craftily hidden. Scouring the environments can be tricky in itself.

The other element that makes a great platform game is character control. I donít find it immensely satisfying it DKCR if Iím honest. I understand you play as a large Ape but that weighty, clunky-ness made it more frustrating than it needed to be sometimes. Maybe after playing the likes of Ms. ĎSplosion Man, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Meat Boy I became accustomed to tighter character control, so DKCRís heavier and less accurate movements were an occasional annoyance.
I also felt the higher bounce off the heads of enemies required an odd timing which Iím nolt sure I ever comfortably got the hang of and caused some deaths where that mechanic was needed to get past certain sections of the game.

I only have one final thing to say before I move on to the gameís, and genre as a wholeís value and itís that Donkey Kong Country Returns doesnít have that Nintendo magic which I believe that new Super Mario Bros. Wii does have. That probably means nothing to anyone who isnít a fan of Nintendoís work, it may even mean nothing to someone who is, but itís a hard thing to articulate. It just lacks that joy that seems to resonate through the screen that most first party Nintendo games; perhaps it lacks something in the animation, art design or whatever, some little quirk.
Itís not a big deal, as itís still a great game and one I think Iím being overly down on. Perhaps because the last Donkey Kong game I played was Jungle Beat and that game is such a great example of fun, quirky and excellent design. It also looked nicer in my opinion.

So we get to the point of discussion that is value, the worth of the platformer. This is purely coincidence but while I write this Iím listening to David Jaffe talk to Jim Sterling about how Rayman: Origins is one of his favourite games of 2011 yet he doesnít think itís worth $60 (among many other things). This attitude is confounding me quite a bit. Now Iíve not played Rayman yet, Iím a little behind, but I hope to. But from my understanding from others this game contains a decent amount of content; it terms of play time and secrets to unlock so why is Rayman as de-valued as Jaffeís own God of War?

I feel I should point out Iím not having a go at Jaffe, I happen to like him a lot but what he was saying recently ties to what I want to talk about here.

While playing DKCR and knowing I was going to write this blog I did try and think of why the platform genreís gameplay is worth less than most other genres. I donít want to compare them to say the FPS or any other shooter as they do tend to have a multiplayer portion to them that give them hundreds of hourís worth of gameplay, but I do want to compare them to a single player campaign in one of these games. I also want to look at the character action game.

By the end of the game, and reminiscing about other platformers I canít think of a reason to why this genre has little value. They are more challenging than the average game and often make you sit at the edge of youíre seat while you try and traverse one of many, many levels and also require complete mastery of controlling your character. Learning the arc of your jumps, dealing with inertia and how each enemy responds.
There is so much to think about, just as much as God of War or Bayonetta, just as much depth in design; just as much intensity as a shoot out in Call of Duty.

Maybe indie games have ruined it lately, what with making excellent downloadable platformers for £10/$15 or less: Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, Ms. ĎSplosion Man again and many others. And as great as all these games are, I adore each one; they are all based around just a few mechanics, but executed brilliantly. A full retail game, however, like NSMBW, has so much more content. And not just more levels, but more mechanics. Just think of the suits and power ups in all the Mario games that make each level a totally new experience. Super Mario Galaxy even manages to mix up the very same level to something new by altering some mechanics.
This just hasnít really been seen in the downloadable yet looking at them it seems like you can get the same experience from a full retail game. In a sense you can, but relegating the platformer to just small scale games doesnít do the genre the justice it deserves, or let it reach its potential.

So, to me, the platformer has just as much worth as other genres. But maybe the question we should be asking is Ďare the full retail games as a whole worth £40/$60?í
I just hate to see a certain genre singled out when other genres arenít as complex and worthy as people assume, as it seems to me at least.

Anyway, Donkey Kong Country Returns. While not the best platformer on the market itís still better, cleverer and more fun than anyone who hasnít played it thinks it is.   read

3:48 PM on 01.23.2012

Games of 2012: Mass Effect 2 - The Road to Mass Effect 3

Weíre drawing close to the release of what may be the finest game of 2012. Much like how Mass Effect 2 was released early in the year yet still managed to be many peopleís game of the year despite the impressive competition that would follow, we have another year with a Mass Effect game released in the first quarter. Will the same happen again? Maybe, who knows! To me, that very well could be the case as much as I donít really want it to be.

Oh, and the following may have potential plot spoilers.

Let me be honest with all you early on. Iím usually into pretty weird games and enjoy the sensation of dropping an obscure game in a conversation amongst friends to keep them quiet while I explain why itís so often. I have a brief sense of coolness before they call me a loser and/or a wanker, and rightly so, and then push the conversation to more normal games. But Mass Effect is my connection to the masses. There are a lot of popular games I like, but very few of them I love; but Mass Effect is a series I love.

In preparation to Mass Effect 3 I decided to go through both games again and set up an alternative story to the one I have already set in motion. In the case of Mass Effect 2 I also had all the DLC bought during sales that Iíd yet to go through. On top of that Iím reading the three novels, too. Iím halfway through the third one. Theyíre okay; real trashy and noticeably written to a strict deadline but they have some nice touches and I love the universe so Iím nicely entertained by them.
So Iím pretty in touch with the series to really enjoy ME3.

The original Mass Effect I finally saw the end of last year after playing it on and off for over six months. Thatís not a game Iíd recommend anyone go back to, itís quite a mess. It made me kind of sad that a game that means a lot to me is quite unplayable now. It always had its numerous faults: the loose and unsatisfying combat, the repetitive side-quests and environments, the graphical bugs, those uncomfortably long elevator rides, the list goes on. But it didnít matter at the time because it is such a rich universe to take in. Iíd walk around the Citadel talking to anyone whoíd listen, like an attention starved old man, just to hear their stories and if I could help in some way. I liked to take these stories and apply my own ideals and morals to them that would change the trajectory of the story slightly; I liked leaving my mark on this space opera. I also liked seeing if I could do 360 degree spins in the Mako while airborne.
Since Iíve gone through Mass Effect so many times the experienced is faded, familiar and the gameplay alone just doesnít stand up now.

But enough about the original; I want this to be about Mass Effect 2. Itís safe to say the action parts of the game hold up better than ME. Itís not the most satisfying third person shooting and will never hold a candle to games dedicated to that genre but itís quite a fun attempt at it. Both my ME2 play throughs were with using a Shepard that used biotics: one a full blown adept and the second a vanguard. I had more fun as an adept with the range of biotic powers you can use; lifting, flinging and warping the poor souls that would oppose me, though thatís not to say the charge plus shotgun combo wasnít fun to use as a vanguard. Itís these little touches that make it fun, I couldnít imagine playing ME2 as a straight soldier.

This is a Bioware game so the main attraction is the story and the characters, though in this game there isnít much story. Some bad stuff is going down at the Omega relay, so go deal with it. Thatís pretty much it. This is why I like ME2, it has a conventional video game type plot but where it shines is in the characters. Love them or hate them, they will get some kind of emotion out of youÖ apart fromÖ Gary? Andy?.. Michael? You know, the one who looks like Kanye West? I could look his name up but this makes my point; heís very forgettable.
I really like the focus not on a crusade to save the universe but primarily to convince a varied bunch of characters to come on a mission they very may not come back from. In trying to gain their loyalty you end up getting involved with them on a personal level. Saving the universe is obviously a noble act but itís just something I canít properly conceive in reality, the universe is a massive thing, but the small problems the crew have that need to be dealt with to gain their trust are more relatable; something I can conceive more.

Iíd like to see more games that are more low key and personal. Persona 4 is another favourite of mine and I like it for similar reasons; itís about exploring the anxieties of people. And Chibi-Robo, a quirky adventure about helping a family through rough domestic patch. Theyíre all weirdly, cosy little worlds to be part of.

But back to ME2, though. Reading the novels along with playing really gave me a different stance on Cerberus. They were nasty people in the first game but were depicted to be morally grey in the sequel and when I played it first I was won over by them. I figured what they did was a little wrong but Ďfor the greater goodí like the Illusive Man often says; I thought he had a point regarding all the questionably ethical things you do. But all of ME2 is from their perspective so give real credit for the gameís writers to pull that off, to draw you into the world and blinker you to situations that are plain to see. After reading the novels you really see them for what they are and not at all worthy of sympathy. The whole universe is impressively constructed.

Oh, and one final thing. I still didnít manage to do the final mission with no-one dieing. Miranda and Legion ate it the first time and Samara croaked on my second go. I really donít know what Iím doing wrong. Maybe a third attempt is due.

So Iím looking forward to where me story ends with Mass Effect 3. Roll on March!   read

7:32 AM on 01.20.2012

So... Resident Evil 6?

So the Resident Evil 6 trailer showed up last night on a number of sites and as I turned off the computer and tucked myself in bed I found myself thinking about the series a lot. I thought about the original and how that scene from the Hunterís perspective terrified me to the core, I thought about how Resident Evil 2 is likely the game I completed the most times and so on. Now, I wouldnít call myself the biggest Resident Evil fan. Iíve certainly had fun with the series, a lot of fun, but after seeing the trailer it has gone from a game I had little interest in to one of my most anticipated of 2012, and Iím not sure how it happened.

What makes my sudden excitement in RE6 weird to me is I didnít like the little of what I played of RE5. Granted, I just played the demo and I know I should never judge a game solely on that like I did with Batman: Arkham Asylum. I didnít like that gameís demo too and totally wrote it off but someone bought it for me as a present and it only took an hour or so with the full game and I felt like an absolute boob. Batman: AA is awesome. So RE5 could still be great but I think it was more the idea of having to play it co-operatively. I know you donít have to but still having an AI partner using up all the ammo and generally being something that clings to the back of your mind isnít how I want to play Resident Evil.
I do enjoy playing games in co-op, Iím not inherently against doing it: Halo, Gears of War and currently Resistance 3 are games I enjoy playing co-op, maybe even more so than alone but I just never wanted to do that in Resident Evil. I wish I could explain why, but I canít; it just feels wrong. I donít want to do it.

It has been mentioned that RE6 will also feature co-op, which is great as I know a few people who loved playing RE5 that way but when it comes to RE6 I just hope itís separate for those who want it, and I think that will be the case as Leonís parts in the trailer looks like it will be single player. Speaking of Leon, isnít his jacket sweet? Thatís probably my favourite thing in the trailer. I want to find one for myself and Iíll be the coolest guy down the farmerís market, I know it.
And youíve got that new guy going full on MMA on the zombies which is one of the most brilliantly stupid things Iíve ever seen. I think overall thatís what Resident Evil 6 is; brilliantly dumb.

But there is an elephant in the room which needs to be addressed; itís hardily the traditional Resident Evil game that a lot of people are yeaning for. The survival horror genre is something that isnít quite what it used to be. Apart from indie games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent itís something we donít see anymore which is a shame, itís always sad when an interesting genre ceases to exist anymore, and seeing survival horrorís poster boy, Resident Evil, turn into a monster slaying action game doesnít appear to be a positive thing as we do have plenty of those already.
I donít know why the slow and intense horror game fell out of favour. I donít believe it was because of the direction Resident Evil 4 went in. Iím not going to be mad at that game, itís impossible to be. Yes, it was the first game to turn the series to what it is now but it was just so, so good at it. If Resident Evil 4 wasnít one of the greatest action games ever crafted and it became popular then Iíd be mad, but unfortunately, it is one of the greatest action games ever, so Iím not.
There is a gap in the market for a survival horror game and Iíd love to see someone fill it, but Iíve long stopped to expect another Resident Evil game to be the one fill it.
Resident Evil 0 was the last game that had the traditional formula and that was nearly ten years ago now; Resident Evil isnít that thing anymore, and hasnít been for some time.

But that gap maybe filled! Resident Evil: Revelations, from what Iíve heard seems to be doing that, so purists are covered, right? I think weíre really spoiled sometimes. But it does raise the question with regards to Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City. The question is: whatís the point?
This is a game I really couldnít care less about and its existence is only apparent to me because I have a friend who brings it up from time to time. I dunno, Iím probably going to sound like a complete weeaboo but there is a slight weirdness to Japanese games even when theyíre trying so hard to be western. Even in the RE6 trailer you have a zombie president and a man going full on CQC on the other zombies, and punching them in the face. Itís a western looking game but slightly skewed and off kilter. I donít get that from Operation Racoon City. I just get a Resident Evil game through the eyes that brought us the borefest that is SOCOM.

So, Resident Evil 6! Iím excited by it. I miss the old style horror as much as anyone who was playing them around that time but I canít be upset by something that, potentially, could be so much fun in its own right.
And I think I should give RE5 a chance before this hits in November. Day one!

For the record, I wanted to have the trailer in the blog but I couldn't figure it out... Here's a link if you haven't seen it for whatever reason -   read

3:23 PM on 01.12.2012

Games of 2012: Red Steel 2

Now I know many of you are seeing that this is about Red Steel 2; a game that most donít give two pointless thoughts about, but hear me out. This game made me realise some deep thoughts. Thoughts that undermine modern game conventions and I know you love that! So let me tell you a tale about Red Steel 2.

Cast your mind back to E3 2009. You know, the time when the rather lovely and professionally enthusiastic Cammie Dunaway died onstage before a bunch of practically useless bros who were fortunate enough to become game journalists sneered at her. Yeah, that time.
This was the game that would prove, to the Ďhardcoreí gamer that motion controls were a thing, a thing to be excited about; a thing that justifies motion controls as something beyondÖ I dunnoÖ dancing, sort of. I think Ubisoft kind of pulled it off with Red Steel 2, and I stress, kind of.

I have this horrible habit when Iím playing a game. I sometimes try to get into the developers mind set, which I hate! I just want to enjoy these things for what they are but when an FPS with a mission to bring a Ďhardcoreí game experience to the Wii I canít help but examine more than I usually would. But in forcing myself to examine this rather throw away title it has made me look at games a little differently.

Iíve rambled too much so Iíll hit you with a point. Red Steel 2 does a wonderful thing. All of that cool stuff, all of the stuff that makes you feel good, all of that action is done by you!
You maybe reading this thinking Ďsay wha!? I always be doiní what I be doiní in gameí but I just want to serve up some food for thought. We are in an era now when spectacle, spectacle that has little to do with the person with the controller in their hand. Itís a type of spectacle that is fantastic to view but doesnít push interactivity as far as it could, which is the true potential of gaming. Iíve lost count of the amount of games Iíve sat through a cut scene wishing the game gave me the opportunity to play that section out myself. As much as I love Vanquish, itís a game that is awfully guilty of it and at the start; Red Steel 2 is guilty of it, too.

The intro has you being tied to the back of a speeding motorcycle, getting dragged and slammed into a manner of nasty and mostly hard things. A few minutes later you find out that you are the last of an incredibly deadly clan. Why they didnít just kill you effectively I donít know but letís just roll with it. Letís just roll with the Asian folks living in a kind of future Wild West, with their American southern accents. Why not, why not!?
But the rest of the time Red Steel 2ís gameplay and nothing else is the piece that impresses. There have been times during games like Call of Duty, Uncharted or Gears of War where gameplay, while satisfying, sometimes have a part where a building falls down and you have to avoid it or a vehicle section that has trucks flipping and cars exploding but the whole scenario feels quite uncanny; like you donít have a lot to do with it or not or feeling your actions donít quite effect the game. Red Steel 2 on the other hand feels really involving, if anything, because every slice of the sword, every combo or every finisher isnít something predetermined. It all feels off the cuff and unpredictable, but on screen it looks as impressive as a set piece would. But because Iím in control it feels more satisfying.

Itís weird that few action games feel like that. Itís like they have this solid core gameplay and then go impress you with scenarios outside of that. Itís almost as if the core gameplay is something to keep you occupied while it conjures up some dazzling set piece for later.
Iíd even go out to say that in a game that is pretty high octane the motion controls add to it. Especially after fighting four tough bastards and the last one is knocked to the floor; you hit A twice to leap in the air and thrust the Wii remote down to finish him. If youíre not too fit, than that fight will have you a little tired and that final thrust feels good. You take a deep breath and go to the next area.

I really like the core gameplay of Red Steel 2. Itís always fun. What isnít great, though, is the way the game progresses: Go here, kill dudes, find 3 communication towers, and blow up 10 trucks. Go to the next area: Go here, blow up 5 barrels, find 4 communications towers, and kill this guy.
That goes on throughout the game and Iím not even sure why Iím doing these lame missions. Itís like Bioshock never happened. I kept listening to the dialogue for a Ďwould you kindlyí type phrase to explain these missions. But no, itís just poor design. Itís only the swordplay that keeps you going as the story and the context for the game is so loose, like itís just a reason for fights to happen. It reminds me of the type of horrible brute you can bump into in a bar who will come up with the most convoluted way to be threatening and get a fight out of youÖ well, people like that and also thugs out of the Yakuza games. Theyíre dicks, too.

With all that said, this is hardily the only game to do this and Iím sure there are far, far better examples but I just want to give credit where it is due to Red Steel 2. Itís a fun action game that doesnít rely on too many tricks and earnestly shows why I play videogames when I sometimes find myself wondering why. It wonít be going anywhere near my favourite games ever list but I doth my cap to you, Red Steel 2. I doth my cap.   read

4:23 PM on 01.03.2012

Games of 2012: Portal 2

I expect some of you are looking at this title and saying ĎLolwut!? Portal 2 came out in 2011! What an idiot!í or perhaps just gently wondering what the deal is, or even not caring at all and just skimming past these very words while your head fills with deep self referential questions, like Ďwho am I, really, and am I being the best person I can?í
The point of this blog and hopefully many more is that Iím aiming to write something on every game I finish in 2012. I donít know what it will be exactly: a sort of review, overview, and odd little look Ďn think about thing. The first game I finished this year was Portal 2 from last year and future blogs may even be about older games, even from last generation; what they will all have in common is they will be the games I played in 2012. Title explained. Feel free to ask questions in the comments if needed.

Now I really liked Portal 2, its pretty high up in my favourites of the year. Itís quite a clever little game, with its mind bending puzzles based solely on putting one hole in a wall and another hole on a different wall and passing through them instantaneously. Valve has done a remarkable job building a varied and compelling game around this baffling mechanic. Not only that they built a story and a world around it that is more reminiscent to the type of story telling usually found in linier action games, especially the latter stages of the game where it isnít short of some set pieces that a Call of Duty game may have, if they ever set it in a research laboratory run by a murderous AI. But this isnít an action shooter, itís a puzzle game; see, we donít just have to stick to those safe genres for the thrills, games industry. Wake Up!

But if youíve played the original Portal you already know that. And if youíve played the original Portal you probably think that that game is better, and to be honest, Iíd agree with you.
Portal was an expertly designed series of tests; a truly mind boggling, topsy-turvy trip through the minds of who must be the finest game designers on the planet. A game that had absolutely no hype and when you turned it on to see what the hell it was after finishing all the episodes of Half-Life 2 it would confidently stand up and slap you across the face with itís massive genius. Itís safe to say it was quite a shock; a shock that felt really good. Not like those bad shocks, like static electricity or a dead pet.
Itís also safe to say that most playing Portal 2 wonít relive that feeling again and Iíd imagine anyone coming into it fresh wonít quite get that same feeling, too. There is no doubt Portal 2 has its frequent moments of ingeniousness. Itís a treat that is tasty and generous but is lighter than the thick slab of fudge which was Portal. There are a few too many moments in the middle of the game in Portal 2 where youíre just looking around, spinning in circles, and shooting your portal gun at anything; trying to find a little bit of white wall to pop a portal on so you can move on. Hardily the brain buggery that goes on in the other test chambers, now, is it?

So, together, weíve established that Portal is a better game, no? but there is something Portal 2 does do a little better, and thatís the story. Like most other Valve games the story is actually quite simple, but told brilliantly, and presents a small number of vibrant characters that paint a path for you of different colours and create a rich world in the process. GLaDOSís strange flavour of sarcastic honesty is still the main attraction and Cave Johnsonís stock, archived responses flesh out a history and ideals of the gameís setting, Aperture Laboratories; which are dark and down right hilarious.

Before playing the game I was aware of a divisive character; one Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant. Now Iím not entirely sure what everyoneís problem are, those that have them at least, but I thought he did a refreshingly enthusiastic performance. It certainly wasnít phoned in, which Iím sometimes worried about when someone who doesnít have a great deal of experience in working in a booth. Now, I know he is no Nolan North. He doesnít have the vocal range of someone like him; Stephen Merchant will always act and sound like Stephen Merchant and I guess thatís where the problem lies. Even as someone who enjoys his performance Iíd be lying if that bank advert he does for us in the UK didnít come to mind at times, and you donít really want that happening when youíre trying to enjoy your videogamesÖ economy and stuff.. ICAs? APR? 3.9%?

No thanks, not now.

Personally, I think I was happy with his performance in this because just before I started playing it Iíd been watching his third TV series written by him and Ricky Gervais, called Lifeís Too Short. I donít want to go into too much of a tangent but after that awful show Portal 2 did restore some faith in him again. Lifeís Too Short is a kind of mocumentory (like The Office) but is far too well shot to be one. It follows a twisted version of a sort of famous dwarf by the name of Warwick Davis (played by Warwick Davis) and the trials and tribulations he goes through.

Sounds kind of interesting with Gervais and Merchant at the helm, right? No. What we have is Davis playing David Brent in nothing but cunt mode and all the supporting cast are made up of tossers, shits and face aches. Essentially, itís as if someone watched The Office, then tried to make something like it but didnít quite get it; thatís what Lifeís Too Short is. It amazes me that Gervais and Merchant made this trash. Back to the drawing board guys; you forgot why your work is highly regarded; you know? the complex humility, the dicks, the decent, the dicks being decent, the decent being dicks; all presented in a manner that satires what it is dealing with everyday life. None of that in Life's Too Short.

So after that Portal 2 made me go ĎaaaahhÖ thatís more like it. This be funnyí

Wheatleyís confused ramblings really added to it for me. Portalís world is really strange and having a blind leading the blind dynamic really compliments the other characters in the game. They all change, too. Growth happens right up to the end, even after the credits roll, and itís all believable. Well done, Valve; this may be the best story youíve ever told.

Iím happy the first game I finished in 2012 was one as good as this. No, it isnít perfect, and not as good as the original but itís a nice start, and one that gives me a sense of positivity for the rest of the gaming year.
Oh, but I havenít even touched the co-op; maybe that will put the game on the same level as the original?

Fan art in first pic belongs to:   read

8:02 AM on 10.11.2011

Zelda, Voices and Communicating Narrative

You can browse any forum or comments section relating to gaming and find a multitude of ill thought out or carefully considered debates over a whole host of subjects; or sometimes just trolling and in-jokes. With the recent wave of info regarding The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a familiar criticism reared its head: why doesnít this game have voice acting?

As a fan of the series Iíve heard it since Wind Waker as voice acting was becoming common place around that time, especially with big AAA releases which a Zelda title certainly is. Iíve even found myself wondering the same thing; this is the direction games are going so why isnít Nintendo falling in line? Is it laziness? Is it the budget? Itís none of these, Nintendo could quite easily add voice acting if they wished, but they donít, and after finishing Wind Waker, Majorís Mask and Twilight Princess quite recently I think I know why.

I see the cutscenes in any Legend of Zelda title - but mostly in the more recent 3D games Ė and the way they are shot harks back to those books of fairy tales that seemed to accumulate in the house when I was young (probably well meaning presents but all I wanted was anything Thundercats). They were usually made up of beautiful illustrations with a little exposition or dialogue tucked away in a clear area, all of which communicates everything you need to know about the narrative and characters. That sort of set up will seem familiar to anyone whoís been in contact with a Zelda game. And that is whatís important in story telling; the Legend of Zelda isnít a twisting and turning plot, itís a fairy tale. So the style of storytelling simply fits the style of the game, and youíd think that would be the end of it. Well, unfortunately not.

The unfortunate truth is that videogames are, arguably, too dependant on technology. What I mean by that in the Legend of Zeldaís case is there is a preconceived expectation for games to have all the advancements that all the other AAA games have, and since it doesnít contain one of these advancements then gamers feel short changed. I wish it was understood a little more that games are a creative medium and not a showcase for how many tricks your games console or PC can do. Features in a game arenít something you tick off a checklist and if it doesnít contain them then it fails; they should be considered whether they are fitting to the style of game.

Games can do so many things and itís only damaging to go in one direction only because they can and not consider the alternatives. It makes me think of silent movies or Tom & Jerry cartoons which brought a very physical means of communicating the simple story. Iím not for one moment suggesting cinema should be like this but for short slapstick comedy why on earth do you need voices? Apart from when Tom gets hit on the paw with a giant mallet and lets off that blood curdling scream, naturally. Pixarís Up has a very poignant scene early on where a number of key memories of his time with his wife are shown and a single word isnít uttered and its all the more brilliant for it. And of course Wall-E has very little dialogue yet the story is conveyed in a brilliantly eloquent manner. Seriously, there is more to communication than voices.
I only bring up cinema as it seems to be a little more comfortable in exploring within its history rather than staying on the bleeding edge, even in mainstream films. And Iím not saying games donít do that but it is entirely done in the indie scene and not in mainstream games Ė but Iím happy to be proven wrong.

So baring that in mind go back to a cutscene in a Zelda game and take in the visual style and direction, read the dialogue in an inner voice that will be entirely unique to you and bring you a little closer to the world, see how the characters are exaggeratedly animated to show how they feel and how a push of a button is like turning a page. It compliments the world so well and I start to wonder why I or anyone else would want it portrayed any differently.

Perhaps this desire for adding voice acting is also driven by a desire for change in the series that has remained largely the same for some time and its obvious absence may seem like a good place to start reinvigorating things; but that wonít work. Maybe something does need to change in the series but the way in which the story is told isnít what needs to be altered; because nobody has come away from any Zelda game confused by whatís going on, and thatís because itís so elegantly told. Changing it to using a more cinematic way of telling stories would make the series conform to every other game using that technique, and then it would lose a little quirk that makes it unique; that makes it the Legend of Zelda. I would actually prefer it if a different game came along and tried to improve on what the Legend of Zelda is doing. Iíd also hate a message to be sent out that suggests that character voices are the only way to tell a story and anyone not doing it is cheap.

Iím certainly not against progression in technology but when something works and is rare then donít get rid of it just because new technology has come along, especially if it takes away an identity of a brilliant series.   read

5:41 PM on 09.14.2010

Hello, community.

Hi there. After lurking for over a year I've decided to become a little more active within Destructoid. I felt I had to come and kind of defend Other M, I enjoyed the game, I'm a fan of the series. But another reason is I never felt I needed to express my opinions as Jonathan Holmes did that for me, but as the latest Other M thing has shown, we don't always agree, so I guess I'll have to speak for myself from time to time.

When it comes to the games i like I can become easily pleased, not many genres go unloved. When I have to think about my favourite game it's always going to be an undecided fight between Metroid Prime and Mass Effect, I love me some sci-fi, I especially love the way plot is told through discovery in the former and interactivity in the latter. I tend to appreciate that.

I'm also no "fanboy", so don't worry about that.. Well maybe I am a bit of a Nintendo fanboy, but not one that feels the need to fight in a console war, I love my 360 and PS3 also.

As for outside of gaming, unfortunately I have a unsatisfying job to deal with and I start studying creative writing soon, the long-term plan is to get in-game development as a writer, finger crossed, eh?

When I get some thoughts together I'll put something worthwhile up, in the meantime this is just yo.   read

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