Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Gears of War 4 Review - The next generation of soldiers.


By Sam Coles:

The Gears of War series has been around for over 10 years now and that is very hard to believe I remember when the original game came out in 2006 with that emotional trailer. Gears of War was a must have game for the Xbox 360 alongside Halo 3, so Microsoft were hoping to do the same with the Xbox One and this game is really good with the tightest gameplay of the entire series with a really good campaign with good characters.   

Gears of War 4 takes place 20+ years after the events of Gears of War 3 where the old COG band of brothers are retired and the Locust are dead. You play as Marcus’s son James who has defected from the COG due to the ethical nature of the missions he had to carry out so he and his friend Del decided to stay with the outsiders in a small village. The outsiders don’t like the brutal dictatorship that the COG reinforces so they decide to live outside of society and steal supplies from them now and again. However a new threat looms on the horizon and they are taking people from the outsider villages and harvesting their bodies to create soldiers for a new army called the Swarm who basically a mutated Locust horde. The story is good and the characters have emotional depth rather than them shouting “Scratch on grub” every five minutes, it does get emotional in parts as well as bringing back horror aspects from the first game.

Gears of War 4 is a great controlling and probably the best controlling game in the entire series with faster movement and the main thing that I hated in the first three games is the camera bobbing when you sprint which has been greatly reduced. You may think that this is a minor change but no it is not as the camera bobbing in Gears of War 1-3 was horrible and almost sick inducing. They’ve added new tweaks to the series such as being able to yank enemies out of cover when they’re on the over side of the wall for you to then dig your dagger into their eye sockets. They have also included environmental destructive kills in some segments such as being able to shoot down pipes to using the gale force winds to your advantage during the storms.

Multiplayer is back and is easily the best in the series and that is purely because of the fact they are using full dedicated servers and not peer to peer, although Gears of War 3 did have dedicated servers that was only reserved for people who had the DLC content. They still have the same game modes from the original three games with a couple of new modes such as Dodgeball where you only have one life but when your team mates kills someone on the opposite team your brought back in it’s sort of tug of war mentality where matches can get really tense and the tables can turn at any point. This game still has the staple game modes like my personal favourites King of the Hill and Warzone which if you’re a Gears veteran you know what to expect.

Horde mode is back but honestly I only played it for about an hour because I got bored of wave based modes all the way back in 2010 I don’t understand the fascination with these types of modes but each to their own.

This game looks absolutely beautiful as it runs in the Unreal 4 engine this game shows what the engine can do with rain drops bouncing off the Gears armour to the plant life swaying in the high winds. The presentation is consistent I did not notice anything out of place or blurry when it came to the visuals. The only thing that was jarring is the frame rate because like Uncharted 4 the singleplayer runs at 30 fps where the multiplayer runs at 60 fps I would have rather had a constant 60 as the game doesn’t look downgraded in the multiplayer. 

The sound design is fantastic it has taken what was already good and added an extra grunt and if you have a good speak system on your TV or a subwoofer turn the bass and volume up and enjoy the chaos. The Gnasher shotgun is the highlight because every time you pull the trigger it shakes the screen and the Lancer with repeating chatter sounds amazing even down to the watermelon exploding sound when you get a headshot.


Overall Gears of War 4 is a fantastic game and is a game you must own if you have an Xbox One. You can get the game below £20 second hand these days I picked up the special tin edition for £17 so you’re getting a lot for your money.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Skyrim Special Edition Review - The full package with a spit shine.


By Sam Coles:

Skyrim is a game that a lot of people love and it is astonishing that game still has relevance six years after its release. It got a shiny edition in the form of the Special Edition on the PS4 and Xbox One with a Nintendo Switch version to follow later on this year. Is it worth picking up? I would say yes if you missed the expansion packs and you want a better looking version of the game.

Skyrim takes place in well Skyrim which is a northern province within the continent of Tamriel where you’re held as a prisoner for an unspecified crime. Just as you’re about to be executed a dragon attacks the region and you’re then able to break free, where you have to decide if you’re going to side with the Stormcloaks the Nordic revolutionaries or the fascist Empire. You then find out that you’re Dragon Born a warrior who has the soul of a dragon who can absorb dragon souls after they’re slain, so you must curb the dragon problem throughout Skyrim and master the Thu'um which is a magical shout. The story is an interesting set up but like most Elder Scrolls games it is quickly forgotten when you get set loose in the world.

Skyrim is an open world RPG where you can take on quests whether it is the main story or you can completely ignore it and walk in the other direction and explore to your heart’s content. You have to make a character first which can range from humans to the more bizarre Argonians which are race of Lizard people. Unlike previous Elder Scrolls games you no longer pick a specific class you can choose to play however you want to so if you want to be mage just keep using magic specific attacks or if you get bored of being mage you can switch to blades and hammers etc. The game has a lot of freedom however I would argue it misses the point of role playing where you play a role and this sort of “freedom” gives you the illusion of endless possibilities but I would say it lacks focus.

What I like about the game is the blacksmith mechanic as I could spend hours crafting new weapons and armour because you need to explore the world to find new resources. That is what I love about the Elder Scrolls series is that sense of exploration and wonder as you meet new people in interesting and settlements with beautiful vistas.

The visuals have been given a slight boost in terms of the environments and the lighting which look spectacular; however the character models do look like they are from 2011 with unnatural animations. Some of the new lighting effects are truly a sight to behold especially at dawn and dusk as you see the sun leak through the trees and reflecting off the flowing streams. The soundtrack in this game is absolutely wonderful from subtle scores to big bombastic choirs when you’re in battle against a dragon like other previous Elder Scrolls games the soundtrack does not disappoint.

What else does this version of the game include? Well you get all the expansions that were released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 which are Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn so you’ll have plenty of content to keep you occupied for months. Like Fallout 4 this game also comes with mod support but it is very limited on the PS4 because Sony is weird like that.


Skyrim Special Edition is great for those who never got to play it for first time round in 2011 or if you’re like me never played the expansions. It’s going for a good price at the moment so I would say pick it up.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Nioh Review - Dark Souls in Feudal Japan


By Sam Coles:

Nioh is a game that is not ashamed of wearing its influences on its shoulders as you can clearly see what game inspired it. It’s a new take on the Dark Souls experience set in feudal Japan with high difficulty coupled with punishing yet satisfying combat.

You play as a character that is based on a real historical figure named William Adams who is an Englishman who sailed to Japan and became a samurai however for some reason in this game William has an Irish accent, not an issues if you’re not familiar with the history but it can take you out of it if you do. You find yourself locked up in the Tower of London and you must escape the catacombs and this is where the game lets you get to grips with the basics and throws in an easy boss, I like this as it eases you in.

Once you get to Japan the game starts to throw more mechanics at you and this is where things get a tad more complicated but if you take your time you’ll find that it is not that hard once you get to grips with it. You’re first presented with three stances, you have high stance which let you do slow but powerful attacks however you’re open for damage. There is the middle stance which is a mixture of powerful strikes and fast pace reflexes, this is the stance that is most useful as it is a happy medium and is great for crowd control. Finally you have the low stance which allows you to strike quickly but it does not deal a lot of damage.

The fighting is not slow paced like Dark Souls but it does not take an aggressive route like Bloodborne, as it is made by Team Ninja who are most famous for making Ninja Gaiden a notoriously hard game with fast paced combat. It even has the over the top gore and violence from the that series as you can decapitate your enemies.

Like Dark Souls you collect experience points when you kill enemies and the tougher the enemy the more experience you gain. However when you die you lose all of your experience and you have to reclaim it by visiting the location where you died, this encourages you to tread carefully and take note of fighting patterns of foes as they all have wind downs and wind ups with their attacks.

Managing your stamina is important as well because otherwise you’ll get destroyed and the game punishes you for sloppy fighting. Stamina is called “Ki” in this game which will run down if you attack or sprint, there is a technique where you can regain some if timed correctly called a Ki Pulse. How this works is if you hold R1 for a certain amount of time you’ll regain Ki which is vital for some fights as some enemies will drain your stamina and you have to master this technique to push through this game.

The game looks beautiful as it recaptures the ancient Japanese period however the environments do start to repeat as you either go through villages, forests or a village within a forest. The game runs at buttery smooth 60 frames per second which is essential for a game like this as it requires quick reflexes, what makes me laugh is that they offer the option to play at 30 frames per second calling it “movie mode” why would you play at that frame rate?

The only issue I have with this game is that it can feel a bit cheap with its difficulty as enemies can kill you really quick because once they have started a combo on you there is nothing you can do to defend or retaliate.


I was surprised how much I loved the meaty challenge of Nioh as it keeps throwing surprises at you and encourages you to try again making you better. This is another solid experience exclusive to the PS4 and it’s a good year so far for Sony’s console let’s hope they can carry on the streak.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Modern Warfare 3 Review - More balanced compared to MW2.


By Sam Coles:

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 was released in 2011 on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC and is considered to be the weakest game in the trilogy and I don’t understand why as it has a great campaign with a stunning conclusion with a refined multiplayer after the mess that was Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer.

Modern Warfare 3 picks up directly after the ending of Modern Warfare 2 where Soap is in a critical condition after being stabbed in the chest by General Shepard who has been killed by Soap by having a knife thrown in his eye. The story begins in New York City where the Russian military are in full invasion mode as they are still trying to take over large chunks of the US due to the airport massacre in Russia in the second Modern Warfare. It’s not long until the US military take back New York and push the Russians out of the country. The Russian President wants to meet the world leaders in Hamburg to plan a peaceful solution, but Vladimir Makarov gets to him first.

You play as Yuri a man with a dark past and affiliation with Makarov and he wants him dead more than Captain Price, you take on the role of Price’s right hand man for a bit in this game as Soap is not in a fighting state at the start of the game. Brian Bloom does a pretty good job voicing Yuri considering he is not Russian at all he pulls off a decent Russian accent, this is the same guy who plays B.J Blazkowicz in Wolfenstein The New Order and Nick Reyes in Infinite Warfare.

If you have played Modern Warfare 2 then you’ll be very familiar with this game but everything has been tweaked to perfection as this is the tightest and fastest controlling game in the entire trilogy with great shooting and crunchy sounding weapons. The campaign will take you between 4-5 hours but it is a fun and exciting ride.

The multiplayer is the reason why most people play the Call of Duty series and Modern Warfare 3’s is great as it took the issues from the mess that is MW2 and fixed them to make it more balanced. They still have the standard custom loadouts but they have added new things such as strike packages for each class. What this entails is that you can choose between Assault, Support and Specialist Assault is your standard killstreaks like attack choppers UAV’s etc. Support have streaks like advanced UAV’s, Counter UAV’s and tactical vests to help your team and Specialists is where you can gain extra perks when you get a good streak going you get the Specialist Bonus where you have every perk in the game. The only problem I have is that the Stealth Bomber is in the Support strike package and I don’t know why as that sounds like an assault category to me and it is very easy to obtain.

What I like about Modern Warfare 3 is that Sledgehammer who took over development due to the original Infinity Ward team being let go supported this game a lot, if the community had an issue with the game Sledgehammer would address it. They supported the game with free updates whether it was fixes for weapon power, game mode balance and even free maps like a throwback map like Terminal.

The visuals are still good considering that the game came out in 2011 and it is running on a heavily modified Quake III engine with great character models, animations and particle effects with the explosions. The game runs at a blistering 60 frames per second like most Call of Duty games and as much as some people hate the series you have to give credit where credit is due where they give you high graphical fidelity and a smooth frame rate even on console.


Overall I don’t understand why Modern Warfare 3 gets all the negative attention because it’s the most refined multiplayer in the Modern Warfare trilogy with a short but exciting campaign. This game is really cheap these days so pick it up if you get the chance.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Mafia Review - A clunky but wonderful experience.


By Sam Coles:

There are not many games that follow a story about the mafia, before you say GTA III you were not in in the mafia you were working for them in first half of the game. In 2003 a little game came out on the PC, PS2 and Xbox and that game is Mafia. It became a classic with its story telling with a twisting narrative and interesting characters despite its flaws it is still a fantastic game.

Mafia takes place in the 1930’s where Thomas Angelo is being interviewed by a federal agent where he is retelling the events of his line of work. Thomas starts off as a humble taxi driver when one lonely night when he is having a cigarette two men from a mafia family are being chased and they crash their car and asks him to lose their tail. He eventually loses them and they give him money as compensation for the damage of his taxi, they also offer him a position within the Salieri organisation but he respectfully refuses. The next day he is ambushed by the same goons who were chasing him the night before as they remembered his number plate. Thomas ends up going to Salieri’s bar where they attackers are then shot and killed and he ends up joining the family. The story has lots of twists and turns with plots of revenge and betrayal.   

        
The gameplay is an open world but not in the traditional sense like Grand Theft Auto as there is this open to drive around but there is nothing to do in it, it is there to set up the narrative to make the game feel more believable. The game is very much on a linear path guiding you through the story, you’ll be doing your fair share of shooting and driving and it’s competent but a bit clunky in parts. The shooting is not bad but the aiming can feel a bit sensitive and sometimes you can’t tell if you’re hitting your target due to the lack of visual feedback. Driving is good but if you turn too much you will swerve out I guess to create a sense of realism, the wanted level system is more sensitive than GTA as the police will chase you for speeding and running red lights it adds an extra detail in the world.

The presentation is a dated these days and has not aged well with a poor draw distance with a fog effect to mask it coupled with the poor character models, but they do have more detail compared to the character models of GTA. Animation is stilted and characters never seem to blink if they do it’s not often and you’re left with these cold stares during cutscenes. Voice acting is very good for the most part but there are few bad lines where you can tell that some of the developers stepped in and did some of the work but the cast of main characters are well voiced.


Mafia is a flawed but great game which kick started a franchise with a release as recently as 2016 with mixed opinions. If you want to play the game that started it all then pick this game up its super cheap I picked up my copy for 99p in my local retro store so it won’t break the bank.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Black Review - An action movie that is a video game.


By Sam Coles:

Criterion Games are mostly known for the Burnout series and superb Need for Speed Most Wanted 2012, but they threw their hat in the first person shooter ring with a little gem called Black. Black was released on the PS2 and Xbox back in 2005 when the 360 came out but curiously never got a 360 release. This game really pushed those systems to their limits with the visuals and effects. Why do we not hear people talk about this game? I don’t know but it is a game you must have in your collection

Black is about a soldier who is in custody and is being interviewed about events that transpired months ago and if this plot sounds familiar then you have played the Battlefield 3 campaign as the setup is exactly the same. Cutscenes are real FMV footage with real actors and the acting is okay it can come off as a bit ham fisted with corny lines but I wasn’t expecting a fantastic performance from a game that was released on the PS2.

The gameplay is a first person shooter although Halo came along and showed that FPS’s could be done on consoles, they were still finding their footing at this time. Black does a decent job of being a console shooter from that era with good and responsive controls although the can feel a bit clunky when you’re trying to pull off precise shots. The action is intense with explosions everywhere and gunfire constantly rattling in the back and foreground.  

You have a variety of weapons from pistols which are about as effective as using harsh language to my favourite the Spas 12 which shakes the screen every time you pull the trigger. There are times where you’re given suppressed weapons but it will quickly go wrong and you’ll end up going loud.

Considering I’m playing this game on the PS2 this game really pushes the hardware to its limits with particle effects I thought that were not possible on the system. There is so much going on in each situation I’m surprised that the game does not slow down more often and yes it does drop frames here and there but not often. The only aspect that really annoys me about the visuals is the depth of field effect when you reload as it is a pretentious effect showing off their weapon models and you can’t see where the enemy is when you’re reloading. The other problem I have with the visuals is that the game can be too dark in places especially during a segment where you’re avoiding mines on the ground which you can barely see.


Black is a fantastic shooter and has surprisingly aged well with visuals that push the sixth generation of consoles to their limits and fun over top gameplay that will have you grinning ear to ear from start to finish.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Crysis 3 Review - Feels like an expansion to Crysis 2.


By Sam Coles:

Crysis’s claim to fame wasn’t its gameplay but rather the fact it was and still is a bench mark for high end gaming PC’s but that doesn’t mean consoles missed out on the series as the second and third game came out on the Xbox 360 and PS3 with mixed results. Crysis 3 came out in 2013 at the tail end of the 7th generation and was during the period when every game had a bow and arrow in it. This game feels like an expansion to Crysis 2 and is short really short, but does that make it a bad game? No not for the price you can get it for these days.

Crysis 3 takes place after the second game where Alcatraz’s personality has been overwritten by the original nano suit wearer Prophet. Prophet has been captured by the mercenary group Cell as they are rounding up people who were from Prophet’s unit from the first game where they then tear the suits from them for study. You’re then freed by your old friend Psycho who then goes to explain that New York is on lock down by Cell to contain the remaining Seth forces in the city who invaded Earth. The story is actually really interesting and it helps that it is acted and performed really well as they used motion captured to bring the actor’s faces and motions to life.

The gameplay is largely the same from the second game where it takes a Far Cry style where you can scan an area from a distance and decide what action to take whether it is loud or quiet. It is advised to take the quiet route because you take damage easily which is a bit strange as you wear a nano suit which is designed to soak damage up. This is my biggest gripe with the gameplay is that this is a first person shooter that discourages the shooting part which is a shame because the guns and customisation of the weapons is insane and fantastic. When I tried to go loud I would find that the enemies took too many bullets to kill, you would only take a few shots to die and ammo is scarce during firefights especially during the two boss battles in the game with stupid fighting patterns.

What is good about the gameplay well I do like the customisation of the weapons on the fly as well as the addition of the bow and arrow. When you’re in a firefight you can hit the back button (if you’re playing on 360) and Prophet will hold his gun up and you can change sights, barrel attachments, under barrel, magazine upgrades and bullet types. This is great as it encourages experimentation as there is a lot to play around with as it adds an extra layer of depth. The bow is a nice addition as it not just standard arrows you have you also have frag, electric and shrapnel arrows so say if an enemy is in water you can use electric arrows to shock him and others around him.

Prophet has abilities with his nano suit such as the ability to cloak which is great when sneaking around and makes you feel like the Predator but it runs on an energy supply and runs down quickly if you run or fire a gun. However if you use the bow it does not use any energy at all, which does make the game a tad easy. He can also turn his suit into a shell which can absorb damage, this is great when you’re in a sticky situation or if you need to fall from a particular height.

The presentation is beautiful this game really pushes what the Xbox 360 can do as Crysis 2 really struggled to run on the 360 as it was Crytek’s first time bringing the series to the consoles. It really feels that they have got the hang of things with this game as it runs well on the 360, not perfect by any means as the frame rate does tank at the start of the game with the intense rain effects. The overgrown look of New York looks amazing with trees and long grass swaying in a dynamic way when the wind blows I was astonished that this game looks this good on an Xbox 360, but this was released in 2013 on the tail end of the generation.


Overall Crysis 3 is a mixed bag it’s not a great game but it’s not a bad game as it has its high moments with the superb acting in story but the gameplay has some frustrating moments but it has some unique aspects. It’s not expensive to pick up these days as I picked my copy up for £2.50 so it’s a good bargain.