Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Loser Score.

Right, I'm meant to be doing college work right now so I'm going to make this damn quick.

Modern Warfare 3 came out the other day. I've yet to play it but I've watched and read some reviews and it's looking like a fine game. Infinity Ward (or whatever is left of it) and Sledgehammer didn't do much with the formula, rather sticking with the what's worked for them this far. I have no doubt that it's a decent game. No it doesn't innovate, no it doesn't change the rules, but it's still a decent game.

When Modern Warfare 2 released, expectations were high. Call of Duty 4 had made a big splash when it released in 2007, snuffing the trend of WWII shooters and instead setting the action in modern day (that's right, there was a time when that was new). Everyone adored CoD4. It was fun and original, it took risks and made no apologies. When Modern Warfare 2 came out . . . I don't know what people actually expected, but it apparently disappointed. I myself purchased the game on the morning of release and had a very good time with it. I even got the Platinum trophy. But wherever I looked online, people were bashing it, even people who were well known for playing it on YouTube. Perhaps it had something to do with dedicated servers, maybe it was the new multiplayer features. Either way, much of the gaming public felt somewhat wronged. Not in a way that a game developer had messed up on them, but instead as if Bobby Kotick walked into their house, poured sour milk on their bed and then punched their new kitten in the nose. So they bitched and moaned, they made little groups called "I'm never going to buy another Call of Duty game" and "Boycott Activision" and blah blah blah blah. But that wasn't all they did . . .

For those who don't know, Metacritic is a site that aggregates review scores for things such as games and films. If a new game comes out and IGN gives it a ten and Gamespot gives it a five (more possible than you think), Metacritic will give it an average score of seventy five. Simple. On the page there is a separate score for user ratings. People are welcome to sign on to the site and write their own review of the product with their own score out of ten. The user scores are then also aggregated into an easy-to-read score for people who don't fully trust the opinions of professional reviewers.

You may see where I'm about to go with this. When Modern Warfare 2 was unleashed onto the world, reviews were very positive. Sites and magazines applauded Infinity Ward for making yet another solid shooter with an exciting story and colourful characters. I really enjoyed the game, it had me riveted from start to finish. Was it perfect? Hell to the no. The story seemed to be dictated by the missions rather than the other way 'round and it didn't have a bunch of depth. It was an eight out of ten game and I've never regretted the purchase. When I went to take a look at how it was doing on Metacritic, I was both disappointed and irritated. Many, many supposed gamers had taken to the site to voice their opinions on the game. Some left long, almost reasonable posts about how the game doesn't do anything that impressed them while others were just being honest, saying "I'm just rating it low to drop the average". In the end the User Average sat at around three out of ten while the Review Average was in the nine area. I played that game, it wasn't a three. It may not have been a nine but it certainly wasn't a three. Now the same has happened with Modern Warfare 3. At the minute I think the User Score is in the two ballpark. I haven't played the game yet but I know it's better than that, which means someone is essentially trolling the ratings. It's gotten to the point at which developers are asking people on Twitter to go and give their honest opinions of the game. These of course being the people that worked incredibly hard to make this game, giving up time to see their family and friends, working seven days per week. We've all heard stories about how Activision operates, those studios work damn hard.

So, I think this is ridiculous. A grim illustration of just how childish gamers can be these days. When you give a dodgy score for anything it corrupts the whole average. It's a sad way to spend your time. If you want to be annoyed then vote with your wallets, or write directly to Activision or whatever, just do something a little more mature than throwing your toys out of your pram on the internet. Posting a deliberately inaccurate score on a very reputable website says way more about you than it ever will about a game. It's days like this that make me cringe when I tell people that I play video games.

Oh, and all those people who boycotted Modern Warfare 2 . . .

Thursday, 3 November 2011

So About That Grand Theft Auto V Trailer.

Right, for those who haven't been online in the last week or two, Rockstar have announced GTAV (shocker, right?) and dropped a trailer on us. You can find it here. Essentially the trailer tells us that it's going to be set in San Andreas and in modern day. That's the two big questions answered. After watching the trailer a couple of times I have a few more speculations:
  • There'll be multiple playable characters.
  • Animals will feature (that one is pretty much fact).
  • The city will have sparse, open areas akin to Red Dead Redemption.
  • Planes are flyable.
  • There'll be a property market system.
  • Players will be able to exercise (like in GTA: San Andreas).
  • There'll be multiple playable characters.
  • Golf will be a minigame.
  • Players can ride jet skies (again, fact).
  • Convertible cars have been added.
  • Silenced weapons are now usable.  
So it's around here that I'll say that I really liked GTA IV. I thought that it had struck the perfect balance between levity and a serious story about loyalty, revenge and redemption. Graphically it had my jaw on the floor and I felt the new gameplay mechanics were an excellent evolution from the PS2 series. I believe that using an immigrant from Eastern Europe was a brave and rewarding touch to a story that really held onto me until the final act. One of my favourite things about the game was that it had taken a little step back from the, arguably, somewhat bloated San Andreas. Gone were the routine trips to the gym, underwater collectables and burglary mini games. What does any of this have to do with the trailer you've just watched? Well, I worry that that seems to be the place that the series is heading to again. Property markets, sporty minigames, bodybuilding, haven't we been here before? Shall I look forward to tattoos, customisable cars and driving tests in the next one?

Don't get me wrong, I'm damn glad we're still in modern times here. I know everyone loved Vice City, it was great, reminded them of when they were kids. But it's nearly ten years since those days and players are very much living in the here and now. Nostalgia will sell a lot of games but it sadly it doesn't last forever. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of this new city. Red Dead Redemption gave me a taste for the countryside so I can't wait to nab a truck and make my way up the mountains. San Andreas on the PS2 was massive and I've little doubt they'll be aiming for something similar this time 'round. The multiple playable characters possibility is also very intriguing, opening up a bunch of story possibilities which, let's face it, the series could do with. If Rockstar can skip the whole "I was a bad guy, I wanted to stop being a bad guy, but then I kept being a bad guy" gig for just one game I'll be delighted. Graphically the game looks like it's taken a serious leap forward, and as I mentioned before GTA IV was no slouch. From what I can see they're still working off the same engine but there appears to be way more by way of props and lighting techniques. I think they'd do well to really make an engaging story this time that isn't all that predictable. It's not too much to ask really, in this day and age. I know this game will be good, they've got to grips with the PS3/360 tech now so they've room to experiment, so surprise us! I just hope that, instead of adding on cumbersome bells and whistles, they instead make a solid game with an engaging story, a world with more life than what we've become used to and some new and unpredictable features.

Oh and one more thing, Rockstar announced this game on a regular weekday and then released a trailer just over a week later. They didn't tease it for months, drop hints in magazines or even wait for a big stage show. No, one day there was no GTAV and then the next day there was. I fully applaud Rockstar and Take Two for this. I look forward to E3 as much as any partially closeted nerd but it's really refreshing to see a big publisher just fire out something to get people excited on what seems to be a fairly unspectacular day. Uncharted 3 did a much similar thing last year and it was excellent. Now if Rockstar wanna follow suit and have GTAV out within the next twelve months there'll be no complaints from this guy. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


So this here is where my verdict of the Batman: Arkham City Collector's Edition was supposed to go. I was going to post some pictures of it, detailed shots of various bits, maybe even a little video of the art book. I'd give my opinion on all the little pieces and whether the set as a whole was worth the money I had payed for it (it probably wasn't going to be). I'd talk at length about what I'd do to improve it, what I liked about it and probably griped about how annoying it is that the game disc rests in the cover of the art book. But you'll notice that I'm not doing any of those things right now. No, no the universe had other plans . . .

So I strolled into my local HMV a few weeks back to do my annual list of preorders (easily the nerdiest thing about my life, aside from this blog). This being my final year in college the list was incredibly small, Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. As some of you may have read in a previous post, that list used to be about three games heavier but if I want to pass this year than sacrifices need to be made. I always use my local HMV for a couple of reasons.

  • They have the best prices.
  • They're staff are always very friendly and helpful.
  • They're generally well stocked.
  • They've come through for me hundreds of times in the past.
  • They also provide me with music and film.
  • They're not Gamestop of GAME. 
When I was placing the order, the staff member very kindly reminded me that there was a Collector's Edition available and asked if I wanted it. To save face I feigned taking time to consider it for a moment and then nodded at him to save one of those for me. He took my details, took a small deposit and sent me on my way with a receipt and a smile.

So I counted the days down until the calender told me it was October 21st. This being one of my most anticipated games of the year, I decided to take the day off college and enjoy me new game for the day. Waking up at around nine o'clock, I wasted no time in getting myself to HMV. As I drove in to the shopping centre, I got a funny feeling that this wasn't going to go smoothly. A memory of a previous experience with Modern Warfare 2 flashed before my eyes. A memory of me being met with confused and somewhat irritated looks when asking for my Special Edition. I disregarded this as a fleeting thought and tried to find a parking space. I arrived in HMV to notice that it was almost empty, this boded well for me as I wanted to minimise the amount of witnesses seeing me buy a Special Edition of a Batman game. I wasted no time in getting to the counter and slapping down the deposit receipt I had been given before. I immediately noticed that it was a different staff member today, one I don't think I'd dealt with before. He took a second to go over the piece of paper and then asked "Collector's Edition yeah?" I replied with an enthusiastic "yes please" and silently drummed my fingers on the counter. The staff member (who we'll refer to as Tony) did a three hundred and sixty rotation around the till area expecting what I can only guess was for a copy of my game to jump up and shout at him. He halfheartedly glanced around and slightly moved some boxes, then gave me a quick "back in a minute, Scott yeah?" and ran down to the store room at the other end of the shop. In the three or more minutes he was off the floor a rather sizable queue formed behind me. Sadly he also seemed to be the only staff member in the place so there was no way anyone was going to get served until I got out of there. I was both confused and somewhat irritated to see him roll back up to the till with a black t-shirt wrapped up in his hands. He popped said t-shirt onto the counter in front of me, gave one more half hearted look around the till area and then threw up a regular non-collectory version of Arkham City onto the desk. Once again trying to appear more like a regular Joe Soap, I used the price difference as my way of saying "where there hell's my collector's edition?!" and said "sorry, but was the version I preordered not (pause for effect) like seventy euro?" He hesitated for a moment and then said "Um, yeah, there was only one of those in the back and it didn't have your name on it, sorry" and continued to process the sale. This is where I hit a crossroads, do I press the matter? Do I stay silent and walk away? Do I make a scene? I was very conscious that there was a line of people behind me, that I had been at the desk a while, that it was a special edition of a video game. I took the easy way out, gave my money, said a polite "thank you very much, have a good one" and left with my peasant edition of Batman.

So, what's my beef? What's the big deal? Why am I writing about this? Because, people, pre-orders and special editions are a big deal these days. HMV, Gamestop and other such establishments place a crapload of emphasis on this stuff. Publishers, who are losing serious amounts of money to Gamestop are still giving them the best, most extravagant special editions of their games. There is no way they're sitting around a table in Ubisoft and going "y'know what? Let's give Gamestop the Ultra Super Amazing edition of Assassin's Creed 2.99 to Gamestop". No, I'd wager that Gamestop pays quite a lot of money for that little privilege. And I'd say they pay quite a bit. You may notice that when you walk into a store that sells games they practically stop you in the aisles and beg for your pre-orders. A pre-order to these guys is a guaranteed sale before the product has even been released, with a deposit. This helps to control stock, looks good to the shareholders and is way easier to sell on the basis that you don't need to pay for the item when you order it. I'd be fairly confident in guessing that these retailers are competing heavily for these pre-orders, they have to deliver.

Now, there's a few things I need to stress here. For one thing, the staff member was perfectly polite at all times and apologised for the mix up, and it's not something I particularly stress about. It was not a particularly responsible use of money and I really don't want to go in that much for the snazzy editions of games. However, there was every chance I could been one of the people who queues up at nine in the morning waiting for the store to open. I could have shouted the place down demanding the edition of the game that I had been guaranteed, that I had paid a deposit for, was placed on the counter in front of me. And I do believe I would have been somewhat within my rights to do that. But I'm a little less wired (or ignorant than that). Also, yeah the dude was courteous, but he certainly wasn't too professional. I may have played a little casual about the whole deal but that didn't warrant him to try and pass me off without saying anything. I've done my time in retail, he should have opened with an apology, moved straight on over to an explanation as to why there was a problem and then concluded with his three step plan to fix everything. I understand working in retail sucks (trust me) but the guy was simply doing it wrong.

So, maybe in future I'll order online like most others, or take my business to a different retailer. I like HMV, for many reasons, but they fucked up this time and seriously left me hanging. What irritates me is that I had a feeling they would, and I don't really know why. If you're going to make such a stupidly big deal out of pre-orders and special editions, you best deliver, or else you might seriously piss of a good customer.

P.S. Sorry for the massive inactivity of late. I'm working incredibly hard in college and just don't have the time to write or even play games at the minute. I fully intend to be more active in the future though so please keep swinging by and thanks for looking today. Peace. 

Saturday, 1 October 2011


The console wars, to me, have always been about the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. The Nintendo Wii cornered off it's own market on day one and never really felt the need to compete with the other two giants. In my opinion the consoles themselves are just another piece on the board. I strongly believe that it's exclusives that sell consoles, and without talented developers you have no exclusives, studios like Naughty Dog or Turn 10. Sony seem to be all about hanging on to these studios, as can be seen by their acquisition of Sucker Punch in August, less than two months after the very successful launch of the PS3 exclusive inFamous 2. A quick Wikipedia search will show the Sony has numerous successful studios in it's pocket, and is still hiring. Microsoft on the other hand seem to prefer to keep their developers at arm's length, choosing rather to pay developers for console exclusivity rather than buying out studios themselves. I honestly don't know which method is better, I'm sure both have their pros and cons. But exclusive studios are not really what I'm here to talk about today, rather publishers.

Over the last while I've noticed certain publishers giving better treatment to one console over the other. Of course when I say "giving better treatment" I mean "selling better treatment". It's been clear for years that Microsoft is prepared to pay top dollar to stay in bed with Activision. At E3 2010 they made the rather terrifying announcement that they had entered into a three year agreement with Activision which meant they'd get timed exclusivity of any downloadable content for Call of Duty until the end of 2012 (note: "timed exclusivity" means that it releases on one console before it releases on another). That might not sound so special to you but a few weeks is a long long time in the world of video games and that time does not come cheap. It's also worth taking note that when Bungie (developer of giant Xbox series Halo) flew the nest from Microsoft they landed snugly in the warm embrace of Activision, a company not known for it's hospitality. And lest we forget Bobby Kotick (CEO of Activision and the Darth Sidious of the video game universe) threatening to stop supporting Sony consoles back in 2009. Of course it didn't happen, nobody thought it would, but it was still a noisy move and raised quite a few eyebrows. That exclusivity deal on Call of Duty ends in December of next year, I'll be very interested to see what happens next. 
EA and Sony seem to be going down a slightly different road with each other, a road full of extra games included in the package. Like, full games. Medal of Honor (Yank spelling of "Honour") had a voucher for the PS2 classic Medal of Honour: Frontline included as standard when it released in Europe last year. Not a big deal in the nickels and cents of things but it certainly pleased some of my gamer friends. This move was outdone by another big EA release less than three months later when Dead Space 2 had a port of the previously Wii exclusive Dead Space: Extraction on the disk! This got my attention because Extraction was the only attractive game in the Wii library to me. This union was further solidified at E3 2011 when Sony and EA announced a spate of new PS3 exclusive deals, the largest of which the inclusion of Battlefield 1943 in Battlefield 3. To put that in perspective, Battlefield 3 is arguably the biggest game of this year, whether you want to measure that in preorders, forecast sales or even budget, it's huge. And 1943? That only holds the distinction of being the fastest selling downloadable game of all time. 

So what does all this mean? It's kinda hard to tell. One might predict that this will escalate until full alliances are formed. I myself don't see this happening, it just doesn't seem cost effective to me in the long run, for anyone. I definitely see this as being the beginning of something, something that might turn into a really big deal when the next generation of consoles roll out. This also might be a fatal mistake on the part of one of the publishers, as the console war between Playstation and Xbox might come to a head in the next three or four years and I know neither Activision or EA want to be on a sinking ship. Maybe this is the natural progression of things. Or maybe, just maybe, this is what will bring an end to this console war. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Christmas 2011 Sequel Thoughts.

So we're getting close to the concluding months of 2011 which means we're about to get a slew of blockbuster releases in time for Christmas, and college deadlines. I find that every year this gaming orgy gets a little bigger and this year is most certainly sticking to tradition. This of course being my final, and busiest year of college, it's only natural that most of the games are must-haves for me, and coincidentally, sequels. There are plenty of giant games coming out this Christmas but I've decided to focus on a small few that I'll most likely have no choice but to pick up on release day.

Quick Note: I'm aware that these are all incredibly western and mainstream and all feature male protagonists with big muscles and American accents. Sadly "Flower 2" or "Return to Limbo" doesn't scream "preorder!" so forgive me for being a conformist, I just like playing games. 

Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Yet another installment from what I believe to be the most franchised game series in history (seriously, look it up on Wikipedia, comics, films, hoodies, everything!) and once again noticeably missing a "3" at the end of it. This is a game that I don't believe needed to happen, and I said that about Brotherhood as well. I get it though, Ubisoft wants to release the final chapter in 2012 as that's an important time in the Assassin's Creed mythology (therefore marketing gold), but selling us a "major installment" every year in between is a bit much. Brotherhood didn't really feature enough new bells or whistles to really justify itself and this looks like it's bringing even less new stuff to the table. If Brotherhood was Assassin's Creed 2.5 (and it was) then that would really make this AC2.75, and nobody likes that many decimal points in their game titles. I mean, do we really need to play again as Ezio? Or Altair?! Is a new zipline really a back-of-the-box feature? Do I care that Ezio is getting old? I admit I did when Solid Snake was on the home stretch but I'd known him a lot more than two years. I'm going to pick up this game because I really dig the story and want to see where it's going, and I guess I know what I'm getting in terms of gameplay as well. But man, AC3 better deliver after all this foreplay or else I'm going to be seriously peeved.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Ah Uncharted. You've never done me wrong, have you? This is the sort of game that's going to have me texting everyone in my phonebook on release day and excitedly saying "Happy Uncharted 3 day!". This  game has so much to live up to. For those who don't know, Uncharted 2 was massive. It changed the way AAA developers approach sequels. Just look at games like inFamous 2 or Dead Space 2, more emphasis on story, character development, set pieces, quality. I'm very interested to see if Uncharted 3 affects how developers look at the famously challenging third installment. So far it's looking great, loads of emphasis has been placed on online gameplay this time around, possibly with an eye to challenging games like Call of Duty or Halo. Somehow they're still managing to improve on graphics and  lighting on the PS3 and pushing themselves in regard to animation and production. There's also water gameplay (something I was hoping for) and seemingly a bunch of new locales to host Drake's new adventure. Concerns? Few and far between. With such a successful game in Uncharted 2, topping their own success if going to be very difficult for Naughty Dog. The story and gameplay improvements need to be pretty big to justify another installment, rather than just making Uncharted 3 to cash in on the brand. I know for the fact this will be a great game, I just hope it manages to surpass even my expectations.

Batman: Arkham City
Man, did anybody see Arkham Asylum being the instant classic that it was? I sure didn't. I took one look at the screenshots and the developer and said "that looks cool, shame it's going to be crap" and boy was I wrong. Loaded with atmosphere, great gameplay and a noticeable amount of care, it was very clear that Rocksteady took the job seriously and delivered what was arguably the best comic book game in the history of video games. So how do you follow it up? Rocksteady's answer appears to be "build on it". They've kept everything we've loved about Arkham Asylum and added a bunch of new features and characters. Having already proved themselves at adapting characters we've known and loved since we were kids, it's exciting to see them dipping again into the archives to bring some fresh blood into the world of Arkham City. So far we've seen Two Face, Mr. Freeze, Talia al Ghul among many others and I've no doubt we'll see a few more in the final game. I'm also really pleased to see the inclusion of Robin and Catwoman as playable characters, it should add a little spice to the campaign.  The change of setting is also a brave move in my opinion. It'd have been easy to stick to what they know and do another round on Arkham Island but instead the developers jumped out of their comfort zone once again and moved to the more urban setting of Gotham City (although, thankfully, they've seemingly left out the ability to drive the Batmobile). One thing that pleases me to no end is that they have completely left out online multiplayer. As someone who buys games for their single player features, I appreciate that the developers have decided to focus entirely on that rather than trying to stick on a superfluous multiplayer component (I'm looking at you, Assassin's Creed). I can't wait for this one.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
No game splits a room like Call of Duty. Many gamers love it, many think it's everything that's wrong with the game industry. Many people were shooting this down long before there was any information released about it simply because MW2 wasn't the cancer curing, girlfriend producing, body toning happy pill that we all built it up to be. MW2 was far from perfect but it was still a thoroughly entertaining ride that did everything I expected from it. I see this as being no different. It's a bit prettier and the story has predictably gotten huge and ridiculous but that's what I play Call of Duty for. If I want to play something that's actually going to make me think or feel something then I'll dig out Metal Gear Solid or Heavy Rain. From what I've seen it looks like a tonne of new bits have been added to the multiplayer, this is sure to please many but I think the whole thing is starting to get a little busy. I'm hoping for a nice conclusion to Soap and Price's story with some epic twists and turns along the way. Jaw dropping set pieces are sure to be included in this, but I'd be a very happy player if they managed to fit in some less Micheal Bay-esque sections too, just a tiny bit of contrast to all the explosions. That would be sweet. I'm pretty sure that I'll get my money's worth with this, but I'm not expecting this to change my life like many others did with MW2. Will this be a contender for Game of the Year? I doubt it. But believe me, this is going to outsell everything else by quite a huge amount. Including . . .

Battlefield 3
This, for many, is The Big One. The knight in shining armour that's going to dethrone Call of Duty (the evil emperor of gaming legend). I don't believe any other game this Christmas has expectations as high as this one. EA and Dice have made it very clear that their out for blood with this. They want to destroy Call of Duty and salt the ground it grew from. I think they could make a game that made you more attractive the more you played and it still wouldn't outsell CoD but it's great to see some competition at the top. And believe me, competition is what breeds good games. I remember the days when Medal of Honour was the big seller and Call of Duty was hacking at it's ankles, it's funny how circular the game industry is at times. The game itself is shaping up to be stellar, Dice are really putting their best foot forward and it shows. The graphics are incredible (on the PC anyway) and I'm really digging how cinematic the campaign is looking. With this I want something a little grittier and more realistic than CoD. I have zero doubt the multiplayer is going to be amazing. It's great so see jets back in the game and I'm looking forward to seeing all the new weapons and equipment that's in store. I think it's probably going to be a better game overall than CoD but I strongly believe that they both can coexist as long as they both maintain quality. CoD has it's popcorn market and Battlefield can aim for the Generation Kill fans out there. I'll be picking up a copy of both this year and if you enjoy your first person shooters, I suggest you do the same.

So those are the games I'm certain to pick up. I want to say I'll keep an eye out for more, but as I say this is my last year and I've a film to make. You're more than welcome to comment and perhaps share the games you can't wait for. 

Saturday, 20 August 2011

My Problems With Tekken 6 (In Less Than Sixty Seconds).

I'm actually okay with the fight system itself, it's solid. Everything else needs to go at this stage. The art direction's a joke, there's just too many characters (quality, not quantity), the story is rapidly falling apart, the loading times are far too long, they replaced the rather nice story mode with a ridiculous campaign mode, they continue to push their stupid customisation feature, the final boss, Azazel, is the worst designed thing in any thing I've ever seen, the music is terrible, the menus are bad, any single player mode is badly disguised to make you feel as if you're playing online, it took forever to come out on consoles, the trophy set actually has "Trophy Set" written in it, many of the stages are really cramped, both Azazel and that stupid giant robot are entirely pointless and add nothing but pure frustration to the game, the characters are overdesigned to the point at which they look like caricatures of their former selves, and the gameplay does have a problem with it, a pointless and rather clumsy "Rage Mode" . . . I won't even go into this. They need to shave everything back to Tekken Tag Tournament and start again, because they've gone terribly terribly wrong somewhere.

Azazel is such a mess that this is still the only
official image of him I can find online.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Uncharted 3 Beta Impressions.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a boy who likes his Uncharted. It's generally my quickfire response to any question with the words "PS3" or "games" in it. I've Platinumed both games and revisited them many a time. I had some great times with the Uncharted 2 Beta and learned very quickly that, while it most certainly does not need it, multiplayer lends itself well to Uncharted. It's fun, it's relatively balanced and it's not too daunting to the sort that don't really dig online multiplayer (this guy).

So, with that in mind,  I had understandably high expectations for this particular taste of things to come. I, like most of you, had watched all of the Uncharted 3 trailers and learned that: A) It's going to be a beautiful game and B) they're really trying to push the multiplayer this time with new modes and a much stronger emphasis on customisation. Are they hoping to take on the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty? I can't really tell. But in typical Naughty Dog fashion, they definitely seem to be striving to make the best possible game they can make, and that was clear even before there was word of a beta.

Even with all of this in my mind, I was still struck with just how gorgeous the visuals are when I first started playing. Anything you've seen in the trailers or gameplay demos online really can't do it justice. The lighting is a cut above most games on the scene now, as is the animation. Playing as Drake (naturally) I was pleasantly satisfied with the fluidity of the gameplay. Characters climb and take cover with a natural ease while shooting still looks wonderfully informal. These aren't soldiers you're playing as, they're treasure hunters, pirates. And there's not one single movement in their bodies that will ever make you doubt that. Unfortunately, actually moving these characters around the map is still less than perfect. Many times I found myself jumping into a wall rather than over it or taking cover in front of my enemy rather than rolling out of the way of his bullets. While I view this problem as being simple, I understand that it's not an easy one to rectify. These characters perform many different maneuvers and there's only so many buttons on a Dual Shock. The only thing I could really suggest is that they tighten up the object detection around cover areas. Ideally they'd make some sort of amendment to the controls but it's far too late to be faffing about with those. The problem isn't huge and I've no doubt that players will get a feel for it after a while but it can be a little discouraging, and in many cases frustrating, for new players.

I spend the majority of my time playing the new Three Team Deathmatch. This is a fun mode that works really well. Right from the get-go Uncharted 3 makes it clear that teamwork is essential with the new Buddy System. If you die, you can spawn next to your teammate, provided they're not in combat or near a live grenade. Be warned though, the system isn't hugely tight, I sometimes found myself spawning into a skirmish and dying within seconds. I don't actually know if this is a bug in the system or intentional. I kinda prefer the idea of having to take a moment to weigh up the pros and cons of spawning with a teammate. And believe me, you're going to need that teammate. Generally you're not going to encounter the idiots that permeate the maps of Modern Warfare 2 here. These are players that mean business and will know that two guns are far more effective than one. Running around like a ninja might get you a few sly kills but if you wander into the path of a small clan then you may as well just say that you're very sorry and won't try to hurt them again. Once they've ventilated you, they'll have the option of doing a high five or fistbump over your freshly perforated corpse, further emphasising that teamwork is what this mode is really about. I had played my first few matches on my own with a randomly assigned teammate but it wasn't until I employed the assistance of my good friend Niall (Neel) that the game really opened up for me.

Jumping straight back into Three Team Deathmatch, I learned quickly that this is a far different experience when played with a friend. The open line of communication through headset was essential. Before long we were giving titles to certain areas of the map, warning each other of incoming attackers, and generally having laughs. Pretty soon I felt there was no point in even playing unless I was playing with a friend. We dominated many games of TTDM, even going so far as to have a winning streak well above fifty games. The game works perfectly with pairs of players working together rather and large teams. I found this to be particularly true when we tried our hand at a couple of games of Plunder. The popular mode works pretty much identically to how it played in Uncharted 2. The only major difference I noticed is that you can't throw the idol off the map any more as it seems to be bounced back by an invisible wall. In this situation Plunder was slightly less fun to play because it was just the two of us and a group of strangers. I find the mode to be largely dependent on teamwork and you simply can't rely upon strangers for that. The mode is still hectic, exciting and massively fun but I largely recommend it to people who are playing in a group of four or more.

Recognising that Three Team Deathmatch was definitely our mode, we swiftly returned to spend the last few days of the trial playing the mode that clearly suited us best. It was in these intense sessions of mass murder that I began to notice a few minor issues with the gameplay. First and foremost, the melee system just does not work as well as it could. Anyone who has played Uncharted 2 knows all about this melee mechanic as it's quite a popular method of attack in any close-quarter oriented map, so it needs to function as best it can.At the minute it takes two melee attacks to down a healthy enemy (you're open to attack in this time). If the enemy has been weakened by gunfire or whatnot then they'll be dispatched in a nice little beatdown animation. My problem is this, two people should never be able to beat each other to death, yet it happens far too often in Uncharted. Call it a connection problem, call it a server issue, I believe it could be easily fixed with a faster melee system (knife perhaps?) and a larger range on said attacks. The range itself is quite noticeable when dealing with someone hanging off a ledge. The person hanging has a much larger range of attack then the person who is trying to push them off and sometimes if you're sniping from a tower and you hear the laboured grunts of someone working their way up to you, you might find yourself pistol-whipping air instead of pushing your assailant to their grave. I think gameplay would flow a little better if all melee attacks were treated like the stealth ones, one fast two-character animation.

Another small issue is that the servers still have yet to really catch up on the other online games we're used to playing. You can still be stuck in a lobby for five minutes or up and you still find players dying a good second after they've been shot in game. I don't possess enough tech knowledge to put my finger on what the actual problem is but all I know is that it never happens to me in Call of Duty or Killzone so I don't see why it would ever be excusable here. Another minor peeve I have is the matchmaking system. When I was playing solo I was frequently put with groups of beginners playing against veterans. This is another thing that happened a little too often in Uncharted 2 and unfortunately it did ended up marring my enjoyment of the games sometimes. It's a small problem but certainly one I hope gets improved in the future.

With every online shooter under the sun giving the player more control over aesthetics and weapons, I can't blame Naughty Dog for putting more emphasis on customisation this time 'round. In Uncharted 3 you can decide on what your character wears and the colour of their clothes instead of just choosing the character model. Another little touch that's been inspired by games like CoD is the new emblem maker. While not as in depth as the one in Black Ops, it works just fine for creating a signature tag and it never gets old seeing that tag pasted all over the walls of the map you're currently dominating. Weapons can also be personalised too. Magazines, sights and such can be interchanged depending on what way you want to fight. This was fairly limited in the beta so I can't comment too much on it but I can see this being pretty cool in the final build.

All in all, I can't wait for Uncharted 3, and I will definitely be teaming up with Niall again to dish out the PWNage once again. The game is fantastic when played and ten times better when played with friends. There are a few small issues but they are in no way tragic. The melee system could do with a good going over and the matchmaking system really needs some speeding up but aside from that everything is A-okay. Are Naughty Dog trying to take on the big boys? Yes. Can they? I hope so. This game is going to be amazing. Be excited.

Friday, 29 July 2011

inFamous 2 Review.

Every man at some stage in their lives wants to have superpowers, it’s a simple part of life like playing air guitar and lying to a girl about your age. In 2009, inFamous allowed us to live that dream (the superpowers, not the mime music or saying you’re actually twenty three). We followed the story of Cole McGrath, a gruff anti-hero who had been involuntarily gifted with electric superpowers after a massive blast in his New York-esque hometown of Empire City. The game took many influences from comic books and that served it well. It was a well presented experience that mixed games like Grand Theft Auto with modern classics like Uncharted. With a solid engine and graphic novel style cutscenes inFamous played like any third person shooter but was original and identifiable enough to make it a game that Sony could be proud of.  It also had quite an interesting plot twist that not only left the door open for a sequel but rather ripped the whole thing from the hinges leaving us all waiting for the second half of the story.

Now here we are in 2011 and inFamous 2 is upon us hoping to secure its place as one of PS3’s leading exclusive series. We once again find ourselves in the shoes of our reluctant hero. Still reeling from his shocking revelation at the conclusion of inFamous, Cole is departing Empire City in the hopes of achieving more powers so he’ll be capable of facing The Beast, a very evil, very powerful conduit (mutant) that was foretold in the conclusion of inFamous. 

This game is clearly one that takes inspiration from Uncharted 2 (these days, every sequel does), the story is bigger, more emphasis is placed on cinematics and the action is certainly turned up to eleven. The game opens big with a massive fight with The Beast which features an impressive sprint through a collapsing boardwalk and hundreds of civilians running for their lives. The fight ends badly and Cole finds himself on the shores of New Marais, a ruined city based heavily off of New Orleans. He discovers that he needs to collect pieces of radioactive crystal to power a device that is capable of destroying The Beast. The change of scenery is welcome, as by the end of inFamous Empire City felt a little samey. The new marshy setting adds colour to the world and also adds new challenges to the gameplay. The aptly named Flood Town section of the world is particularly fresh as it forces you to be far more cautious to avoid killing yourself in the water while also opening up way more opportunities for electric water carnage. We’ve got all of Cole’s powers from before like electric grenades and the spectacular Ionic Storm but now a few new powers have been implemented as Cole grows more powerful. These powers are pretty unimpressive save for the new Ionic Vortex which works like a miniature tornado that sucks cars, debris and enemies into a swirling pool of badness. Unfortunately the same can be said for the new cryokinetic and pyrokinetic powers that Cole gains during the adventure. While they’re certainly a departure from the electric powers and add a little colour to the gameplay, you’ll still find yourself using the same powers that you’ve been using since the first game. The sad thing is that new powers are all that’s really new to the table in terms of gameplay in inFamous 2. You do join conduit newcomers Nix and Kuo (more on them later) in battle which opens up for some satisfying power combos but generally this feels like you’re replaying the last game instead of really evolving or changing. Also new to the game is Cole’s “Amp” a large metal rod that looks just like a tuning fork and can beat the bad guys to a pulp. This adds a little meat to the lacklustre melee system but I’m afraid that’s offset by just how ridiculous the thing looks. The new setting also brings new enemies. The Militia are your standard shooter enemies and fit perfectly fine into the world while the Corrupted are a nice touch because they only have melee attacks. I like, it adds a little variety to the formula and also motivates the new melee system. The last enemies to be introduced are the Ice Men, hulking supersoldiers with cryokinetic abilities. A deeper story is introduced for these guys but I regret to say it’s never really fleshed out and they end up being just another set of enemies. One annoyance I have with the game is that there are some ridiculous enemies in the game that take a good five minutes to dispose of. Not because they’re challenging, but because they just take ages to wear down. This really marred the flow for me and I really hope I don’t see this again in inFamous 3.

While the gameplay still might be a little stuck in 2009, the rest of the game has luckily moved forward. The graphics are far beyond that of the previous game, which was certainly no visual slouch. Lighting is way better this time and the character models are a great deal smoother now. This is particularly evident in the cutscenes. The original adventure did most of it’s storytelling in the form of flashy comic book style cutscenes. They were an interesting change but didn’t really sell it for me. InFamous 2 has taken a little emphasis off these and decided to split the cinematics between in-engine scenes and little motion comics and it’s worked really well. This also gives the motion capture a chance to shine. I never expected to be complimenting inFamous on its ability to portray emotion without dialogue but, here I am. There are some excellent deep moments that actually take inFamous to places I didn’t think it was capable of going. There are some truly touching scenes in the game that really made me feel for the characters, both old and new.  Unfortunately, not all of the characters fall in to this . . .

There’s one sizable problem with inFamous as a series and unfortunately it shines in inFamous 2, the morality system. From the very beginning it’s made clear to you that you always have a choice. You can do the morally righteous act of heroism or you can be a bad guy and kill everyone. In theory it’s great, especially in the realm superheroes, but as a game it simply doesn’t hold together. At various points in the adventure you’re given the choice between being good or evil, and every act affects a karma meter. The problem is that, if you want to gain any new abilities, you have to be either good or evil, you can’t just be you.  If you’re playing as a hero and you suddenly decide toward the end that you want to jump ship, you simply won’t advance your powers in any way, which kind of sucks in a game which boasts about freedom. The other side of this annoying little coin can be seen in the cutscenes. I’ll gladly say that inFamous 2 has a genuinely strong story and they’ve made characters that you can actually care about, but this karma system is a massive handicap. Most of the cutscenes are clearly constructed with ambiguity in mind so that they can be used in both a good or evil context, essentially by keeping Cole’s dialogue slim and non-committal. Not only is this uncharacteristically lazy for Sucker Punch but it’s also very unbalanced in two ways. For one thing it creates a large imbalance between general cutscenes where Cole is as bland as a soviet birthday party and the specifics scenes where he actually does something. The other problem that it simply doesn’t match up to the gameplay. In the evil campaign you can commit mass murder and then walk into a cutscene where you’re all talking about saving the world. This was forgivable in the first game when Cole’s peers were just as dense as him but the character development has progressed, the story’s stakes have gotten higher and Cole is being held back. I honestly don’t think the game needs a karma system, I really enjoyed my hero playthrough and would have been perfectly satisfied if that was all there was to it. The only way I think the morality system can actually work is if you’re just given the choice before the game even starts and have an entirely different campaign based on that one choice instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that has been taken here.

While Cole is still left stuck between two levels of morality, I’m glad to say that the other characters are rich and interesting. In my opinion Zeke really steals the show this time around, a pleasant surprise since he never really interested me in the last game and ended up walking that funny line between traitor and friend. I’m very glad to see someone has given him way more depth this time around as he slowly tries to regain Cole’s trust after the last crusade. By the end of the game I cared just as much about Zeke than I did Cole, possibly even more and I take my hat off to Sucker Punch for achieving that. New to the cast are Nix and Kuo, Kuo being an FBI agent who has apparently been sent to look after Cole (or something, I’ve the sneaking suspicion that this was explained in the comic and I’ll be very pissed off if I’m right) and Nix, a New Marais native who’s out for revenge. Both characters are nice additions even if they do have “good karma/bad karma” tattooed on their foreheads.  I give special mention to Nix, she starts out as the typical crazy bad girl meant to give contrast to straight laced agent Kuo but by the end she shows herself to be just another victim of circumstance that’s just trying to survive along with everyone else.

Another area where I’m glad to say inFamous has improved is in sound, more specifically music. Many times during my experience of the game I found myself consciously acknowledging how good the soundtrack was. Even now having finished it I find myself listening to some tunes from the game on my iPod. It’s one of those things that didn’t necessarily need to be improved upon but I’m certainly pleased that it was.

The final new feature to be added to the game is a level editor. This also falls into my little book of “things inFamous didn’t need”, but I guess this will find it’s market and is less of a cliché than “let’s add multiplayer!” (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed). I tried out a few user generated levels to get my Platinum trophy and it was fairly uninspiring if I’m honest. I’d say it’d be worth checking out in a few months when the hardcore players have given it a go. The tools are fairly comprehensive but like many other games with the same mode it’s not particularly inviting to the casuals. It’s worth checking out but not something I’d consider being a defining feature of the game.

Overall, I’m glad I’ve played inFamous 2. It’s a good game that you will get enjoyment out of, especially if you played through the first game. While the gameplay hasn’t made any massive leaps, the story arc is brought to a nice conclusion while leaving the possibility of a third instalment, the characters have been given some great development and we’ve had loads of fun along the way. I don’t believe the game needs two versions of the same campaign and I think the evil playthrough adds nothing to the game. If you just play through the hero story then you’ll be seeing the best side of the game while the evil story just highlights the games wrinkles.
Go out and buy inFamous 2, you owe it to your PS3.


Friday, 24 June 2011

inFamous 2, Hero Edition. Is it worth it?


Right, first off, this is not a review of the game (that's on the way), I just wanna make a quick post about this package. 

The Box.

I pre-ordered this while up to my knees in college work and looking for a carrot to dangle from a stick at the end of the tunnel. I saw the little Cole model and figured "I deserve a treat" and I didn't stop to consider the price. I was so blinded by sheer consumerism that I didn't even stop to consider I'd be buying it from Gamestop, a place I normally avoid like the black plague. So the release day came and I enthusiastically entered where gamers go to get screwed over and was presented with this large box of inFamous 2-ness. 

Now, I had heard rumours that this was one hundred and thirty euro before, but it still hurt me like stepping on an upturned plug while wearing loose socks when I saw those ungodly numbers flash across the till. inFamous 2 retails at about forty five euro in my local HMV so I was really hoping for at the very least seventy euro's worth of product in the box along with the game, which I figure was a reasonable compromise on my end. This is what one hundred and thirty euro got me: 

So, for one hundred and thirty euro you get:
  • A copy of inFamous 2 in a weird case.
  • A scale model of Cole McGrath.
  • A bag based off the one worn by Cole McGrath (that you'll never wear).
  • A bunch of DLC stuff (that I can't find).
  • A soundtrack.
  • A miniature version of the first issue of the inFamous comic series.
  • A beta code for Uncharted 3's multiplayer mode.
The Model.

This was the main attraction to the package and I'm suitably impressed with the overall quality of it. It's built quite solid and heavy. The level  of detail is fairly decent and it's painted quite well. It now sits proudly on top of my shelf.
The Bag.

I was actually quite surprised at the quality of this. It's a decent size and fits nicely enough. From what I can tell it's fairly durable. You'll never use it though. This is one of those things that will end up in the bottom of your wardrobe and never be seen again which is exactly why things like models work, they're meant to be left on a shelf and never touched. If I want a bag, I go out and buy it, why would I want one that looks like the one Cole McGrath wears? And is orange?

The Comic.

Now this is the one that pissed me off. I'm paying over a hundred euro for this set. I want the whole fucking comic, not just issue one. For that price it's laughable that I'm only getting the first issue without the other five. Not only that but it's a miniature version, less than the size of a DVD case. The box is huge, you could easily accommodate a whole trade paperback in there. Hell, even a hardback. For the money I'm paying a consider it quite a big slap in the face that I'm getting this shitty little leaflet. 


Just to get this out there from the start, I never consider digital content to be something that should add cost to a game, but I'll address this in it's own post later. Included with this set was: 

  • Fifty percent discount of inFamous on PSN.
  • Original inFamous Cole and Kessler skins.
  • Lightning Hook, Electrocution Grenade, Gold Amp.
  • Official Soundtrack.
  • Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta code. 
Right, if I'm paying over a hundred euro, I want the first inFamous free and on disk. Fifty percent is simply not good enough. This was also around the time that inFamous was free online but that's not Sucker Punch's fault so let's leave that there. The weapons stuff is pretty worthless to me in the scheme of things (side note: I've played through the game twice and I still have not figured out how to actually try out any of these things in-game), same goes for the skins. The soundtrack is actually a pretty nifty thing to have and exactly the sort of thing that I think any collector's edition should have. The multiplayer beta for Uncharted 3 is pretty cool although it'll be another while before it's actually available. I always think it's cool when studios sorta work together so I like seeing Sucker Punch supporting Naughty Dog (although I'm quite sure the inclusion of the code was Sony's decision). A beta code is another nice little thing to have in a special edition but definitely not something that should ever add cost.

The Conclusion.

Is this a cool collector's edition? Yes. Is it worth nearly a hundred and fifty euro? Hell to the no. The model is pretty good and will definitely be the biggest selling point aside from the game itself. It's good and heavy and will look cool on your shelf. The bag on the other hand will rot away in your room somewhere, regardless of quality. These sets are about things you can throw up on your shelf and display, not things you wear or take outside (night vision goggles, remote control cars). The comic is just a joke to me. The box could easily contain all six issues at the very least. It's a cheap tactic to get you to buy the other five issues and I don't like that one bit. The soundtrack is pretty cool and I've already moved mine onto my iPod. The DLC? Who cares? A few skins and different colour weapons should not mean more money from my pocket. 

If this set was selling for a hundred euro I'd say it was a reasonable deal but there are simply too many pointless things in it. Buy the game on it's own instead I say. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

So, Shall I Introduce Myself?

Hello there, so I'm Graham. I'm an animation student and I've been playing video games for as long as I remember. I started out with an Amstrad and Sega Mega Drive playing classics like Sonic and Double Dragon. Then my awesome mam got me a Playstation for my eighth birthday and that's where the obsession sorta began. So now I am the proud owner of a Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube and Playstation Portable. I have a fairly respectable collection of games although I bought many of them in a binge and there are still a few I haven't got to fully experience yet. These days I spend most of my time either in college or work so I don't have nearly as much time to play games as I'd like but I still do my best. I keep a close eye on the industry and anyone who follows me on Twitter will tell you that I nearly always have something to say about it so this is essentially what the blog is going to be about.

My aim with this page is to voice my views and opinions on the ever changing world of video games. I'll post reviews up here and little articles about trends, topics and news in gaming. I'll post the odd review but seeing as I'm no journalist, don't be expecting it on release day :). You may also be subjected to my views on other topics such as film and other various subjects but generally I wanna keep this page about the gaming. So stick around, read some stuff and please mail me, comment or send me a message on Twitter if you want to respond to anything.