Friday, 6 November 2015


Well it sure has been a while. Whilst I’ve had time for gaming this summer I’ve had little chance to catch up with my thoughts on the games and put them into writing. If only I had more time… which leads us quite nicely to something I played over the summer, Braid.

I’ve have wanted to play this game for a long time, ever since seeing the entertaining documentary Indie Game: The Movie. The Prince of Persia games for the PS2 and their time manipulation were one of my favourites from that era, so Jonathan Blow taking that idea and making time manipulation an essential component of a game was always going to appeal to me. I’ve seldom played a game where the sheer level design makes me shake my head and laugh in appreciation of the genius at work.

It would be enough with the first world’s time rewinding mechanic, but each subsequent world comes up with a fresh take on how the time mechanic works. Making Braid into a original platform and puzzle hybrid, with loads to discover and wonder at. The music, the visuals, all elevates Braid to such a high level and whilst I could endlessly gush over the game there is something else at play here. That these is something more, the story and game left me feeling I was recalling the plot of a half-remembered dream.

I cannot praise Braid enough, it is a wonderful game and an experience seldom like any other.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Serve the Cerberus

I was really looking forward to Mass Effect 2 following playing the first game earlier this year. I did love the original but it was clearly showing signs of its age. I think with older games of the seventh console generation it’s not the graphics that date the game, more the usability and functionality of the game - such as save systems and upgrade systems and such.

This sequel starts with a bang and is instantly gripping, it has a novel way of resetting Shepard’s abilities so that you don’t start the game with too strong a character. The set-up for Mass Effect 2 works well on the whole, but being a stooge for Cerberus was something I never grew comfortable with. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling they were Space Neo-Nazis – at least The Illusive Man was an intriguing character and that made up for not having to report to the Citadel Council in small way.

The thing I can most commend Mass Effect 2 for is it has such a strong opening, but unfortunately for me this momentum started to evaporate when the game attempted to become more open world. I think this juxtaposition is the main flaw of this game’s narrative, whilst there is supposed to be an imminent threat/danger to the whole galaxy you are still free to dawdle and go about mining distant planets for some element zero or shoot the breeze with a Elcor. I mean who cares if the fate of all civilisation is at stake when you just have to go a drink on Omega, right?

I’m being a little unfair here as I did enjoy the freedom of the varied missions, especially the loyalty ones which proved great backstories and added depth to your teammates. But it was also the point I started to feel a little aimless and my attention started to drift away from the game. In a way I felt like it lost a bit of the urgency and focus of the first game, and there started to be too many third-person shooter elements that became repetitive. Whilst I enjoyed the simplified equipment modification the choices of attack felt all the more limited.

My favourite mission was Project Overlord, I really liked the unethical experimental research storyline and the twisted ethics of merging a human mind to a VI. It felt unnerving and like something out of a David Cronenberg film and had a lot more variety to the mission than most others.

In all I did really enjoy Mass Effect 2 a heck of a lot. Maybe I started it too soon after the first Mass Effect to really appreciate it, but don’t let that take away from what is a fantastic game. It’s a phenomenal space opera with great ambition, imagination and freedom.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Uncharted's Headshot Problem

It has been a while since my last update, a lot of real-life things have got in the way such as a new role at work and the restarting of my home studies. Whilst I have been busy I have been keeping up with my gaming and I finally started the Uncharted series - the first game, Uncharted Drake’s Fortune. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while being a big fan of Naughty Dog and was hoping for Indiana Jones-flavoured proto-Last of Us style romp.

Hmm… I was a little let down to be honest but the game has many great points.

The setting, story, character and voice acting were top draw for me. As a fan of 1980s action movies this film hit all the beats perfectly, without being too drenched in irony. It was fun and exciting, and Drake is at his best when bickering with his allies and enemies. On playing though I realised how much the rebooted Tomb Raider ripped this game off (and improved many things by some margin), but for a game of its age Uncharted  holds up really well, especially in the looks department.

What really let the game down for me was the incessant shooting sections. It felt like: climb up a cliff/shoot some bad guys, solve a puzzle/shoot some bad guys, turn a corner/shoot some bad guys, blink/ shoot some bad guys. Every 10 meters it felt like I stepped into an ambush - that grew old very fast. Also headshots seemed to have no effect so you had to pump about 4-5 shots into someone’s HEAD before they finally dropped. It grew very repetitive having to shoot enemies a set number of times. The puzzles also were far too simple and too few. Uncharted almost started to feel like an on-rails shooter than an exploration adventure/action game at times.

So I was a little disappointed. Maybe I hoped for too much. I’m told the other games improve the game mechanics, but I might give it a little break before returning to the series.

Next up is Mass Effect 2, now there’s something that shouldn’t let me down!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Monkey Music Magic

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is a great adventure game, in fact one of the finest point and clickers I have ever experienced. But what really blew me away wasn't the beautiful pixel art or the fantastic pirate setting and humour - it was the music which really got to me. Land, McConnell and Bajakian made such an infectious soundtrack that is constantly intertwining and bewitching my ears. Normally it is only JRPGs that have music which get me excited, maybe because the compositions are more considered. Although I did go through a period of soundtracking my outdoor runs to the Gradius V OST.

Monkey Island 2 felt like an inventive sequel with the spitting contests and voodoo dolling. Although I preferred Ghost LeChuck to Zombie LeChuck as he seemed a somewhat less threatening opponent this time round. Maybe it was the fact - one that Guybrush often recounts - that we'd already defeated LeChuck in the first game. The island hopping was a nice feature, but for a pirate game I did feel a little let down by the lack of time you actually spend on a ship.

The ending was an interesting twist - one that I will not spoil here - but considering the lukewarm reputation of the next games in the series I don't feel in any rush to find out what happens next. I can see why the first two Monkey Island games have such a positive reputation, and considering all their faults they still hold up really well in the modern gaming age.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

We need to talk about Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain is a problematic game. I had hoped to be mainly talking about my experiences with playing it with the Playstation Move, which I think added another layer of immersion with the game, but I can't shake the feeling that so many things were wrong with this game. I don't think time has been kind to Heavy Rain, and while at the time it must have been seen as a trailblazer in the cold light of a new day it feels derivative in style of films like Fight Club or Seven. But my main problem is how the game treats women. Maybe it's all the more jarring after coming from a game like Mass Effect.

No matter how you dress it up this game is sexist, with its lingering shots on Madison's behind and uncomfortable allusions to sexual violence. Being made to strip at gunpoint was presented in such a gross way I almost walked away from the game. The game had already made my eyes roll when you had to dance on a podium to gain a guy's attention and progress in the game. Now I'm not saying all art or media has to be politically correct, boundaries should be pushed - titillation and sleaze can work well. It's just a disparity between what this game presents itself, a thinking person's thriller, to the reality. It stopped me from enjoying the game, it took a layer of immersion away. And with a "game" which focuses on Quick Time Events, immersion and experience is paramount.

I quite enjoy playing as unlikeable protagonists, for me it was part of what made L.A. Noire enjoyable was that Cole Phelps was no Ed Exley of L.A. Confidential. But what felt wrong with Heavy Rain's Ethan Mars is that he was so overwrought and it was like David Cage desperately wanted you to side with him and feel what he was feeling, it just didn't work for me. Ethan wasn't compelling or even compellingly uncompelling. It felt like lazy shorthand, a guy who will do anything for his son. The over-the-top nature of the trials Ethan went through and his reactions also jarred with the realistic experience.

I could not help but think when playing through this game: "C'mon Quantic Dream - you're better than this!"

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Moving Rain

The Playstation Move always seemed to me to be a bit of a gimmick, Sony's cynical ploy to cash in on Nintendo's success with the Wii. But when I discovered Move for cheap I just could not resist picking it up as there is a game I really wanted to play with it. The move edition of Heavy Rain. I've always liked Quantic Dream, maybe it's the David Bowie connection from Nomad Soul, maybe it was the excellent first part of Fahrenheit. Whilst I'll talk more about Heavy Rain when I finish it I wanted to just comment about my initial experience with the Playstation Move now.

A good few hours into the game and I can't imagine playing the game without the Move controllers. I really dig the brightly coloured soft ball on the edge of the Move and the navigation control is really comfortable and fits nicely in my other hand. I've not had any problems with the controls and any mistakes have been due to my fault not the equipment.

Playstation Move feels like it works so well, opening cupboards, drinking juice and turning keys have never been so fun. It is making the mundane feel special that really adds another layer to the game and the Move controls make me feel deeper in the game. The only down side I have come across so far is accidentally knocking my girlfriend on the leg with the Move controller when I was in the middle of a hectic chase in the game. Thankfully it wasn't too hard, but still it highlights the accidents that can happen.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mass Effecting

It was a little daunting starting Mass Effect, but considering how big the game is I finished it rapidly. This goes to show how compelling and playable Bioware have made this wonderful game. It makes me regret giving up on their Knights of the Old Republic when I tried to play it many years ago.

The whole world is fantastically realised, it feels like a living and breathing Universe. I was worried that the non-linear open-ended elements would affect the story, but the story is so epic and well integrated this never becomes a problem.

Despite its age the first Mass Effect holds up pretty well, with only the really clunky save system being the one thing that is very out of place here. Well maybe some of the driving around in the Mako on a planet sections too.

Some of the impossible choices you had to make felt very Telltale Games, and I mean that in a good way. I can't help feeling that some of the ones I made will come back to bite me in the ass in one of the sequels.

I just had a lot of enjoyment running around bases armed with my shotgun and my preferred team by my side, Wrex and Ashley, even though a lot of the mission were similar it never felt repetitive. Disarming space cults and culling space gangsters has never been so fun.

I really enjoyed Mass Effect and I can't wait to get around to the sequel.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Alan (Wake) in the Dark

One of the biggest bouts of game envy I ever suffered was concerning Alan Wake on the Xbox 360. As a PS3 owner for years I've looked longingly towards it, so when my girlfriend finally recovered her Xbox 360 from storage she bought a copy of it for me to finally play (she's a sweetheart like that). It was worth the wait as it is a fantastic game with a chilling atmosphere.

The graphics are great in a slightly-old-game kind of way. I found myself thinking a lot: "Jeez, this game would've looked fantastic when it was first released." One touch I really liked was that you didn't have to press a button to talk to people. You just walked up near to them and they would engage you in conversation. That was the same for opening doors too.

When I first told my friend that I was playing Alan Wake he replied, "That's the game where you spend ages running around the forest at night." To be fair, that remains pretty true throughout the game. There is a little bit of repetition in the torch-lighting and shooting I still think there are enough different locations to keep things interesting.

Alan Wake is drenched in homage. Almost a little too much. Things like the Lamp Lady are just a bit to obvious. It is really like Twin Peaks and Stephen King in a blender sometimes, but the story is intriguing and well paced. The voice acting is a high standard too.

I must give this game high praise too for including songs by Roy Orbison, Nick Cave and David Bowie. Three of my all-time favourites!

So Alan Wake, it was worth the wait and the game has not aged too badly. I really liked the setting and story, but wished the gameplay was a bit more interesting in places and it was a bit more original. On the whole Alan Wake is a strong decent game.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Discovery of Slowness

My girlfriend bought Eternal Sonata and said I should give it a spin. It has been a long time since I've played a JRPG - last one I played was Final Fantasy XIII a few years back - so it was nice to get back into the swing of things (this usually means me hoarding special items and never using them throughout the JRPG, not even on the final boss).

Playing the opening section I really admired the beautiful colourful graphics. I also found myself enjoying the wistful slow pace as the game as it gently introduced you to characters and concepts. So often now games can be so immediate and hurried that I appreciate a game that takes its time - and being a Hideo Kojima fan shows that I have an almost paranormal patience when it comes to long cut-scenes anyway.

So far I am digging Eternal Sonata, the battle system reminds me of Star Ocean: The Second Story. Dang, now that's a fantastic JRPG I need to replay someday!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Give Gozer a Break

I've been back playing Tetris a few times recently, but nowhere near the intensity of how much I played it last year. Suddenly this weekend I broke my all-time high score in marathon mode with ease. It amazes me how sometimes absence can make you better at playing a computer game. It reminds me of when I had Ghostbusters as a kid on the Sega Master System. That game had me stumped for an awful long time, I was constantly getting killed on the staircases before reaching Gozer.

In the end the frustration got the better of me and I stopped playing the game. Then about half a year later - for no real discernible reason - I decided to give Ghostbusters another crack. After a few tries I finally got to final level with Gozer and completed the game.

How did this suddenly happen?

Maybe I had lost some bad habits by having the rest?

Or maybe the break refreshed my enthusiasm?

That reminds me, I really need to go back to the 2009 Ghostbusters game. I drifted away from it - not because it was too difficult - but because the game mechanics were so clunky. But still it has the original voice cast so it would be worth going back to if only for that.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Smashed Street Fighter

For my birthday I decided to go with my friends to a new bar in town that has a few arcade cabinets. It has Donkey Kong, Double Dragon, 1943, Street Fighter II and Pacman. Channelling my inner-Billy Mitchell I mainly played Donkey Kong most of the night with my friends.

Then an old friend I used to work at Gamestation with challenged me to Street Fighter II, we'd never actually played each other at it before and had always talked trash to each other about who was the better player. I was always confident I could beat him due to my turtling Ryu style.

Anyway when the machine was free we stepped up to the cabinet to play, I placed my drink on top of the arcade cabinet and grabbed the controls. Then I noticed my glass starting to slide, then to my horror I realised the top of the cabinet slopped backwards. The glass slipped away from me and fell off, making an almighty smash on the floor behind Street Fighter II. The bar was quite busy and noisy, I thought to myself, maybe no one had noticed?

I looked gingerly behind me... and I saw a bar full of amused eyes watching me.

Oh the shame.

I ended up losing the Street Fighter II match afterwards too. Maybe that's proof that video games and drink do not mix.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Krogan Battlemaster Blues

"Surrender. Or Don't. That would be more fun."

I heard that surly Krogan Battlemaster growl those words to me many times as I became horribly stuck on the first Mass Effect. And I mean really stuck. It seemed impossible - I was too low a level and I had my weakest members of my team in my squad. Would I ever help Liara escape Therum?

One thing that ages the first Mass Effect is not the graphics but little things, like the inability to skip cut scenes and the unforgiving restart points. Maybe I'm actually just whining here and modern games have made me too soft.

Anyway, after about 12 brutalising tries I finally managed to beat the Krogan Battlemaster. I had no biotics, so I had to use chemical rounds and hide behind pillars to stop the Krogan's melee attacks. I had a real sense of achievement when I finally downed him.

I am digging Mass Effect, it is the first time I have ever played a PC-style action rpg but I am starting to understand how things work. Plus I am in a real science fiction mood still after seeing Interstellar and 2001 on the big screen last year.