Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Free of Mass Effect

So I finally reached the end of the Mass Effect trilogy - having finally completed Mass Effect 3. It was a bit of a mild let down. I’d heard that the ending of this game had been criticised, however that doesn’t prepare you for how blunt and inconsequential it actually was. My main issue however was that the whole game just felt very samey and that it lacked the dramatic punch of the previous games. Having spent 2 games building up the Reapers to be these unstoppable death machines and then have Sheppard take one down easily with a rocket launcher felt… cheap. The Reapers lost their menace, even with Earth under attack I felt no urgency – how dangerous can the Reapers be if a small guerrilla force can hold them back. No wonder I struggled to finish this game. 

I’m being very negative here. Mass Effect 3 is still a good little game in its own way and there were some creative touches, however when it was at its strongest it was involving characters or situations from the previous games.

I think new game announced Mass Effect Andromeda - set in a different galaxy - sounds promising, as the series feels like it needs a fresh start.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Red Dead Horse

Red Dead Redemption proved to be one of my most enjoyable games I’ve ever played, with stunning graphics and one of my favourite protagonists in John Marston. It is a huge open world game and has taken a long time to grapple with, but finally I got there. The only time I wavered was when the action changed to Mexico. However, this game also revealed to me I have a curse.  Let me explain the incidents…

#1 – Whilst on a quest, I was waiting on foot below a cliff I had walked around and down. I whistled to my horse, who proceeded to fall down from the cliff and smash hard before me to its poor death. I mean that’s a mistake that could happen to anyone, right?

#2 – I was hunting a deer. I jumped off my horse and went to skin the creature. I noticed a train was approaching. Then I noticed that after I had jumped off my horse it had come to a stop on the train-tracks. Too late to do anything the train slammed through my (new) horse, obliterating it. There was not a single piece of horse left.

#3 – A pack of wolves attacked me whilst I was on horseback. They just kept on coming, in my panic I aimed my gun underneath me and – accidentally – shot my horse, who collapsed in a heap beneath me.

I am no horse’s friend it seems. In a previous life my ancestors must have angered the horse gods and led to this curse. Still nothing could take away from this amazing game, not even a horse death curse.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Inside The Cave

The Cave is a quirky puzzle platformer that uses style and dark humour to great effect. Ron Gilbert, of Monkey Island fame, has created an interesting hybrid here. You select 3 different characters from a possible 7 to enter the cave and experience different missions. Each character has a different special skill and you swap between them and coordinate to help explore and solve puzzles - the character switching reminds me a little of playing a Lego videogame in single player mode.
I loved how dark some of the stories were and how your protagonists are slowly revealed to be something quite less than heroic. The puzzles are not overly challenging, but for once I quite enjoyed this level of challenge. I like a game that doesn't drive me too quickly into picking up my phone and looking for a walkthrough. I felt more immersed in the experience for that. 
The voice of The Cave, played by Stephen Stanton, is one of the delights of this game. His narration, bold and full of humour, adds a bit of magic to the experience. At times he almost sounded like the Tadman from that great old crazy Dreamcast game Seaman - a major plus for me!
I have only played through the game once so far, but it is definitely one I would play through again to experience the other characters’ stories and levels. Although I may wait a while so the levels you have to repeat will feel fresher.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Galactic Mario

Super Mario Galaxy warped my mind. A spherical gravity-based platform game that managed to be intuitive despite the craziness that was unfolding before my eyes. It is an expertly designed game that leaves you in no doubt that failure is down to user error. Initially I was a little sceptical with having to use a Wii Remote and nunchuck as the main controller, but it was responsive and accurate. It was only the sections where you had to pull and levitate yourself around on the blue stars that the controls felt awkward. I was also impressed with how well the automatic camera worked for the most part - it wasn’t often I felt the lack of twin sticks was an issue.

The galaxies were varied and original whilst still putting a Mario-spin on everything. I enjoyed playing Bee Mario the most and liked how the limited flight time was used. Only toward the very end did the ideas seem to run out, with some designs and ideas repeated or mirrored. The extra comet stars varied between being challenging and just a little too frustrating. None of this really diminishes what an excellent game this is and how much fun I had playing it. I’d wager that the sequel will iron out a lot of the issues and be even more impressive and fun.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Butterflies and Hurricanes

Life is Strange is a triumph, a game that really absorbs you into the setting and has a rich detailed story with strong character development. The game feels indebted to the works of Telltale Games and Quantic Dream, however it manages to forge its own path with its tone, its time travelling mechanism and its pace.  It is important to note from the start that this is not a game about time travel. The power is really just a tool here, something that is used to explore characters and situations in an compelling and unique way. The choices you make have a huge impact on the unfolding story, and the ability to rewind and make a different decision makes you soon realise how branching and tangled things quickly can become. Nothing is black and white. It is not a game for someone who is indecisive.

The focus on decision-making and relationships means that there are few frustrating game mechanics that you usually find in this kind of story-driven adventure games. The item retrieval moments are kept mostly to a needless bottle hunt in a junkyard. The puzzles that fall your way tend to be engaging, all due to the clever use of the time travel mechanic in solving them.

I found myself thinking a lot about Last of Us and the first season of Telltale's Walking Dead as I played Life is Strange, the way the game makes you really buy into the world and care about the characters. However this story revolves around the bond of friendship, rather than the protective parental relationships explored in the aforementioned games. Max and Chloe friendship is not perfect and riddled with difficulties, but there is a deeper love that unites them. Whilst Max tries to act the hero and use her power for good, it soon becomes apparent that it is impossible for a human being to truly shape and bend destiny to their will.

The only misstep I felt was the Alan Wake-y stealth section in the final episode, but I can see why the section was needed otherwise it would have been just a simple walk from point A to B. There had to be something difficult to overcome when the stakes were so high at the end.

Dontnod Entertainment should be commended for a fantastic achievement, Life is Strange is a thrilling and thoughtful game that makes great use of an interesting time travel mechanic. Praise must also be given to the voice actors who really made the characters live, in particular Hannah Telle as Max who managed to reflect inner strength and courage with a subtle and powerful performance.

PS - I really dug how the barn in episode 4 had a real Friday the 13th Part 3 feel!

Monday, 13 June 2016

Fez Ending

I loved Fez from the first moment I glimpsed eyes on it. Seldom have I been so completely sold on a game. It never could do any wrong in my eyes. And on every step of the way it managed to confound, surprise and delight me – always surpassing my already lofty expectations. Fez has two layers; one an ingenious platform experience and the other a challenging lesson in cryptography.  

! - Just a little warning of spoilers from here on - !

I finally decided to complete Fez recently, I had not found all of its secrets but it felt I had come as far as I could without resorting to some challenging code cracking. The ending had such an impact on me, it was like the videogame equivalent of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My interpretation of the end: when Gomez returns most of the cubes and anti-cubes it appears the day has been saved initially. However, on return to your home village when you start walking around things start to deteriorate. It felt to me that because all the cubes had not been found the world was starting to fall apart, the pixilation grew more severe until Gomez grew into a white and red dot. To me it felt like the point of the end of life, where you are stripped down to nothing but your base elements. Although this point seems like the end  everything zooms in even further in a hypnotic way, the collapse of both the second and third dimensions in on themselves. The ending then descends into a series of further reprographics, lines, fractals and shapes, with Disasterpiece providing a haunting rendition of Chopin’s Prelude #4 in Em as we see the images collapse into cubes within cubes within cubes.

To have left the ending there might have been a little to bleak and heavy and so you return to Gomez in his villages playing the drums, which has a little more feel of a traditional 8-bit game ending. Which encapsulates how Fez works, stunning originality and subverting ideas of classic gaming to produce that is more than the sum of its parts.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Mario Kart Memories

Since getting my Wii U I have been playing a lot of Mario Kart 8. A heck of a lot. It is the online mode that is the most addictive, especially as you can join and play with friends and family so easily on the quest for VR points. Anyhow, it got me thinking about my experiences with the Mario Kart series over the years. 

Being a Sega boy the SNES game passed me by, so it was only when I went to University and my neighbour in my halls of residence had a new Nintendo 64 that I was introduced to the series. The graphics were impressive (for the time) and I loved the 4 player split-screen mode. I still remember what an impression having to dodge traffic on Toad’s Turnpike - or all the multiple directions of Yoshi’s Valley - had on me at the time. My neighbour who owned the N64 was head and shoulders above the rest of us who played - even getting hit by the blue Spiny Shell in first place never stopped him from always winning races. He was merciless.

The next time I really got into a Mario Kart game was Double Dash on the GameCube. I have a real fondness for the GameCube controller and it just seemed to suit the game so well, it was one of the few games that could tear me away from Resident Evil 4. Me and my friend really played this game to death, the ability to choose different pairings and karts made the choices seem endless. I loved the absolute chaos of Baby Park. Maybe it was because I had not played many of the earlier games that it felt quite fresh. Another friend who came over to play multiplayer was disgusted with the game - saying it had nothing on the original SNES version.

Anyway, back to Mario Kart 8 and to slowly creep towards 99,999 VR points…