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4:38 PM on 04.24.2014

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

First impressions of MGSV are wholly positive.  The game, viewed within the context of its own series, has evolved.  The title screen features a grim-looking Snake/(Boss) looking out at you, so different to the weary salutes of Old Snake in the predecessor title.  Get past that and you're given a brief introduction to the game before you're near a cliff edge creeping into a darkened military base late at night. Fantastic! Nothing like the ten minute or near half-hour introductions of the past.

Elsewhere, controls and essential game mechanics are significantly tighter and quicker.  Codec calls, once a screen you might be drawn into and stuck at for minutes at a time, have transformed into one-button radio calls, delivered live.  You can even point your scope and request information about what you've targeted.  A small, but wonderful evolution.  You are now able to sprint, dive to cover (a la Call of Duty: Black Ops), lay down and fire at an enemy whilst on your back.  The manoeuvrability of Boss/Snake has improved significantly.

What else has changed? The controls and stealth elements are heavily reminiscent of both the original Splinter Cell and Far Cry 3: enemies can be tagged then seen through walls or other solid objects, and there is an importance on light sources being key to your stealthy success.  Gun battles are frenetic but now feel difficult enough: what I mean by this is that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots made it too easy to mow down tens of soldiers with an assault rifle, mimicking a death match/first person shooter action experience well, but not really feeling true to what one expects of Metal Gear.  If it's something I respect about Japanese game design, regardless of genre, it's that gun battles are difficult, either because you face difficult enemies or lack ammunition, or are easily and quickly overwhelmed by superior forces.  This is what you now have with Metal Gear Solid V.  Granted, the tranquilizer gun is still a standard tool, but you're now spotted and rounded upon by angry soldiers far more rapidly that before, partly because the "cone of vision" has gone, and because the AI has improved, too.

I have seen other writers point out that it may have been a mistake to let the credits roll after the Ground Zeroes mission, and in some respects, they're right.  The side missions are actually quite fruitful, varying the objectives, times of day and starting points in addition to giving you new objectives within the same play-space.  It follows on from the same, arcade-like, addictive principles Call of Duty, Battlefield, and others follow: mastery of a limited space using the same skills repeatedly.  Kojima-san and his team really should be commended for scouring other franchises for what I can only call "The Modernisation of Metal Gear." Long may it continue.

Context: I am quite a thorough and committed Metal Gear Solid fan, having played and completed 1-5 of the "Solid" series, and love #3, then 1, and consider 2 and 4 equal for different reasons.  I have dabbled in the 2D games, but do need to re-visit them at some stage.   read

5:12 PM on 12.06.2013

A love/hate letter to GTA V.

Is Grand Theft Auto Online worth it? I, for one, do not believe so. To me, it seems like the normally glorious, jam-packed single-player mode Rockstar provides once every three or so years has had, to mangle a phrase, a little too much cosmetic surgery done. It's therefore akin to any ageing Los Santos star: recognisable but somehow subtly and forever tainted.

In an attempt to prove credentials and prevent all out attacks on my position, I should preface all of this with the usual: I'm an avid GTA fan, having only missed the London expansions, #2, Vice City Stories and Chinatown Wars.  This is why it frustrates me so to have played the latest game to completion only to be left with an overwhelming sense of "Is that it?"

There are many that would decry this position and point me, hastily towards GTA Online. But IV didn't do enough to make me return time and again to its online world, and whilst I applaud the immediacy of choosing missions from the map in the style of single-player GTA, it still has not revealed itself as truly rich, distinct or captivating. Moreover, there are still those of us who cling to single-player modes out of habit, or because certain gaming franchises have delivered strong single-player experiences without the need for multiplayer.  Grand Theft Auto used to be one of them.

Undoubtedly, the three-character structure was a difficult balancing act, and I have no idea the technical nuances required.  But it seems like this, coupled with the heists are the only two new tricks Rockstar have to offer after some five years between IV and V.  What’s gone wrong?

One could easily point to poor management of my own expectations when it comes to dealing with my disappointment with GTA V, but once a game series sets its own standards, defines its own genre, where Rockstar create and others emulate, it only ever ramps up expectations.  I was sorely disappointed upon the announcement of GTA IV being set in Liberty City.  “Great!” I blithely assumed.  This will be my fourth venture into those same streets! My assumptions were blown apart once I actually started playing IV.  It had a fully functioning taxi system I could be a passenger of.  Working toll bridges.  Police that took issue with others committing crime, not just myself.  Internet cafes! Well-developed, if sometimes annoying friendship systems.  (Who doesn’t have friends that stop by, irritatingly unannounced?)

So then, once I saw V, I was incredibly excited.  GTA: San Andreas had already taken the very solid mechanics and ideas of its two 3D predecessors to a bloated maximum.  I hoped, based on trailers, that I would be breaking into military bases, stealing jets to bomb bridges.  But this was, sadly, nowhere to be seen in the main story missions.

And it’s the little things, too.  (It’s always the little things!) Why is every Cluckin’ Bell shut so I can’t replenish my health easily without a return to safehouses? Speaking of safehouses, why isn’t a bed and garage provided once I start buying properties? Why is the weekly income so meagre? Why are certain properties restricted to individual characters? Why, for the sake of having contacts in a seedy city such as Los Santos, can’t Franklin persuade, nay, force, Los Santos Customs to give Michael and Trevor discounts on their excellent services? How do I bunny hop again? Why are there only four bounty missions from Maude when the previous game had nine assassinations? Why is it that one AmmuNation has a vending machine to replenish my health but the others don’t? What is the point in buying body armour that only gives me a fraction of protection? More to the point, why don’t AmmuNation sell first aid kits?!

Trevor’s “campaign” begins with a bang, quite literally.  Soon enough you are blasting apart members of IV’s Lost and Damned motorcycle gang and doing things unpleasant enough to land you in jail for hundreds of years.  But then aside from a few happy accidents where I accosted members of the gang on roadsides, little else was mentioned of them.  I assumed I had crushed them into dust after the first few missions.  Fast-forward to beyond the final mission.  I buy the Downtown Taxi Company, exclusive only to Frankin, it would seem.  I get a telephone call asking to drive a man to the docks.  His niece has been allegedly kidnapped by the Lost and he wants protection.  I drive there, watch a short exchange of harsh words between my fare and the gang members, and I am invited to send bullets flying.  I do so.  I win.  But this is all entirely disconnected from the first reveal of the gang in the game world.  For the sake of narrative continuity, why not have Franklin telephone Trevor for some more psychotic revenge madness? This is a submission that’s important enough to earn an achievement for on Xbox 360 yet apparently not important enough to actually feature anywhere in connection to the story.

Elsewhere, in the game there are other moments playing as Trevor that should have been climactic and exciting, but are left very much deflated.  During one mission, the player takes part in stealing military weapons, with the promise of making an absolute boatload of money in the process, only to be forced to give it back at the end of the mission.  This is all done without being paid, and without choice, despite Trevor lining up a Chinese buyer for said weapons.  Sorry, Rockstar, but I am feeling like I am being robbed of that trademark GTA anarchism here! Another sore point: no prison breakout mission.  Trevor talks animatedly and excitedly about busting out his friend Brad from prison during the game.  “Lordy!” I think to myself, “Won’t that be fun?” And yet, here I am at the end of all things, with that potentially explosive mission reduced to an apologetic text message by an FIB agent.  I am not a boyfriend or girlfriend you can simply dump by text message, GTA V! This is not good game play, nor good storytelling.  Why is it, then, that Rockstar are satisfied with making Trevor an out-and-out psychotic thug as part of his characterisation only to deny him his own starring role in the three-way story?

Time and again it seems as though, in favour of creating a living, breathing world, Rockstar have somehow forgotten the importance of player access and enjoyment.  I hope that their inevitable downloadable content and GTA VI stuffs itself to the rafters with content for players to enjoy, story-wise, instead of leaving us wanting.   read

10:12 AM on 11.11.2013

My 7th Gen: Xbox 360 games of note

It's always strangely satisfying and yet utterly compelling to read countless articles listing the successes, failures and obscurities of a particular console generation.  The joy lies in recognising where you've had the same experiences as another gamer, or seeing where your path diverged despite having similar tastes or the same machine as the owner.  The funny thing is, it's quite possible to own the same gaming machine as another human being but have absolutely no cross-over of game ownership, such is the world we live in.

I will write this as a category-based analysis rather than thinking of the games as a top ten or a best to worst format.  Enjoy!

Best overall: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Only because this showed how plot in a first person shooter could be exciting and stealthy, and launched the omnipresent multiplayer.  The "ripple effect" it had on the industry this generation has been undeniable.  A great shame that the following games in the series forgot all about the contrast between stealth and blazing action.

Pleasant surprise: Just Cause 2. Despite being a massive GTA fan, I think I enjoyed the accessible fun in this far more than the leaden seriousness of GTA IV.  It also made a good point: why stop the player from accessing all the best vehicles and weapons from the word go?

Honourable mention: Test Drive: Unlimited. It don't have the tightest handling system but buying new cars and having the freedom of city roads and countryside was welcome.  The ease of multiplayer racing was also a handy feature.  Anybody remember the acronym they used? MOOR?

Best DLC/downloadable title: Minecraft for ridiculously addictive gameplay and reminding me of The Legend of Zelda in a good way.

Most replayed: The Orange Box. I can't say away from Half-Life 2's introductory levels and well crafted plot.  The solid gunplay, shootouts in canals, the ruined aesthetic of City 17, excellent vehicle sections to break up the on-foot running and gunning; I suppose variety would sum up HL2 in a word.

Biggest disappointment: Bioshock 2. Loved the original, barely played four hours of the sequel. It wasn't even really Bioshock, in my eyes.  Bad pacing, bad characters, torturous and disengaging setting, and felt rather pointless to play.

Waste of time/money: Kinect. Really didn't find anything I enjoyed. The concept was good, taking the Wii one step beyond, but all I really played was Kinect Adventures. It's very irritating that MS are pushing this as a requirement for the Xbox One without having proven its worth with the Xbox 360.

Biggest time sink: Either Oblivion or Skyrim.  Excellent locations, appropriate music, (generally) fun combat systems, if a little slow and heavy at times.  I embraced being a stealth/archer character in Skyrim and the game turned out a little too easy, but from what I've read that has historically been the case with The Elder Scrolls series.

Most trophies/achievements: L.A. Noire. Got them all, although the drive in all cars was a bit of a beast.  Even though the questioning system was flawed it was nice to feel part of a world and chase crooks all over 1940s L.A.  What's more, the plot reminded me of old fashioned PC adventure games in many ways: go to location A, find item B and cross-examine with person/place C.  Good stuff.

Longest time spent unlocking one achievement: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's 'Mile High Club.' This, in my mind, goes down as similar to the Nintendo 64's Goldeneye feat: beating Facility in 2:05 to earn the invincibility cheat.  You have to have the same razor sharp twitch skills, suffer the highest difficulty level and pray that either enemies, flashbangs or scientists are all working in your favour to ensure you win the day.  Difficult, but definitely possible with extreme perseverance, this achievement had me squeezing the life out of the controller at each reload.

Achievement not unlocked: Grand Theft Auto IV's 'Rolled Over.' No matter how many slowly passing Saturday afternoons I'd pop in the disc and load up GTAIV, drive straight to the airport and start hastily crashing and flipping, never have I unlocked the achievement for rolling your car five times in a row from one crash.  I've tried police cars, Turismos, 4x4s.  I've tried high-impact crashes, I've tried sudden right hand turns, both with and without handbrake usage.  I've even tried doing it with an ambulance after remembering how wobbly they were in GTA III.  Alas, it remains a sore disappointment that I don't wish to elaborate on any further, thank you very much.

Looking forward to: Titanfall. It looks like it'll cure me of the weariness I feel about Call of Duty's excellent but long-in-the-tooth multiplayer.  The jumping mechanic does seem rather "Halo-like" but it should slightly tweak the approach of a system that is creaky and ageing.  I do question how engaging the story will be given that it's part of the multiplayer game, but only time will tell.

Which games would you choose for the same categories? Let me know in the comments box below.   read

2:57 PM on 11.09.2013

Why I joined Destructoid

This evening has been a heady rush for me in signing up to Destructoid.  I have spent the last three days, more or less, reading reviews for Call of Duty: Ghosts.  I am reeling from recent news that Blockbuster (UK) have been put into administration which means they're stocking no new games; no Battlefield 4, no Call of Duty: Ghosts, and I can't even seem to find the new Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag on the shelves.

I was hoping to replay the same plan I ran for Call of Duty: Ghosts as I did with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: rent it, beat it on hardened or veteran for Xbox 360 achievement whoring, give it back and consider buying it when dirt cheap some twelve or twenty-four months later.  But alas, those plans are defeated.

Personal details aside, I joined this site for two reasons: one is to blog and have a platform to post opinion on videogames (aside from forums where posts are eventually deleted), so that I don't feel like I'm writing on a production line that will eventually drop me into a cardboard box to be forgotten.  The second reason I joined is because of Jim Sterling's rather excellent review of Call of Duty: Ghosts.  It seemed to confirm aloud everything I have been thinking about the game, without having played it.  Please, read it here: and read it again if you've already read it.

Finally, I thought to myself, someone who is willing to break rank with almost the rest of the gaming websites I peruse and criticise Call of Duty for what it is, and, more importantly, what it has and has not become.  A reviewer who was willing to go below the 7/10 score or refuse to award it starry-eyed 8.8s, or even a percentage I don't think can be justified.  Some reviews of Call of Duty: Ghosts, have almost apologetically stated "Is it right to criticise a game that will feed its audience the same thing because that's what they expect?"

Yes.  Yes, it is! Because otherwise what are we all playing games for? Why bother buying new ones?!

I feel I should add a disclaimer at this point: I have adored Call of Duty.  My first encounter was with #3 on the Xbox 360, and since then I have played World at War, the entire 'Modern Warfare' trilogy, and Black Ops.  I did not choose to buy Black Ops II despite the rather good write up as that was the year I jumped ship, on my brother's advice, to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3.  When I look back over all of these years of gaming, I do start to feel entitled and opinionated.  When I see the numbers of sales series like Call of Duty garner, I feel they should bring the best and offer the best to consumers and gamers alike.  It seems dangerous and nonsensical for publishers to allow a product to offer the same experience to their loyal followers year-on-year, because it then (surely!) endangers the next game in the series.

Call of Duty is due to launch in 2014 a little over a year into the life cycle of the Xbox One and Playstation 4.  But will it be too late by that time if customers really are disillusioned by the sixth "modern" first person shooter from Activision? As with many things in this industry, only time will tell.   read

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