Thursday, 24 May 2018

Editorial | Call of Duty: why their campaigns are important.

By Sam Coles:

Call of Duty generally gets a lot of flak but that is generally to do with its annual release, naïve people seem to think it is the same studio cranking them out every year when it is various studios. However they have always crafted well told war stories across different fronts and time periods, from the beaches of Normandy in World War 2 to the distant stars in Infinite Warfare. Say what you will they are always well told with great acting and action, so it pains me with the gameplay reveal of Black Ops 4 Treyarch are not producing a singleplayer campaign and this disappointing.

Now I want you to think why do we remember older Call of Duty games so fondly and still talk about them today as if they came out other week. Your thoughts would be the multiplayer right? Wrong! The reason why we talk about games in the series such as Call of Duty 4, World At War, Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 it’s due to their stories, characters and memorable moments that still stick in our minds from 5-10 years ago. When I first owned my copy of Call of Duty 4 on Xbox 360 I didn’t have Xbox Live, so I got acquainted with the campaign where I finished it on Veteran difficulty (many swear words were heard during that time).

Call of Duty 4 really is the gold standard when it comes to campaigns; it starts off normal enough where you are training with fire arms, knives where you then do an obstacle course and then bam! You’re raiding a cargo ship in an SAS squad. It came out of nowhere almost, you go through a cargo ship looking for nukes and then the ship is destroyed by Mig fighters and you go through a daring escape and then opening credits roll through the eyes of a captured president. That’s what Call of Duty nailed with the campaigns they would generally start off fairly tamed and then, it would throw you into the fire.
It’s not only the scenarios it was also the characters that drew me into the series, with Captain Price, Soap, Reznov, Mason and of course my favourite Frank Woods. Captain Price is where it all began with me, I saw him grow from a stiff upper lip by the books SAS captain to a rogue who took know prisoners by doing anything it takes to save the world. The Modern Warfare trilogy is where I grew to love the characters and grew attached to them, so much so when they killed Soap in Modern Warfare 3 I shed a tear, because I saw him go from a rookie in the SAS to an inspiring leader.

When I moved onto Black Ops I was stunned that Treyarch had to gonads to depict the Vietnam War, as most war games don’t really go into it because the United States went in and treated the locals like a wet carpet. They were brutal with their depiction, with torture and mind control which worked extremely well within the Cold War setting. This was the period when the Call of Duty series did not hold back with its dark, mature and brutal subject matter, as this was before all sad lemons took over the internet.

Campaigns are not only good for great storytelling, but they can be used to get use to the gameplay and mechanics of the game. With Call of Duty, each game has a different feel in terms of their movement so it’s great to get used to it in an offline environment. In the past most Call of Duty games would use segments for the singleplayer in the multiplayer for maps, which is great as you can know the ins and outs before you tackle the competitive edge of online play. It’s also a great time to play around with all the weapons and get use to their recoil patters, although sometimes not all of the weapons in the singleplayer will turn up in the multiplayer for various reasons, but mainly for balance purpose for online play.

Call of Duty campaigns are very important, they are great tools for telling a dark and gritty war story while at the same time being fun. I developed attachments to the characters over the last decade and for Treyarch to forgo a campaign saddens me and I’m very disappointed, let’s hope this does not set a trend for other franchises.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Editorial | How cycling improved my gaming abilities.

(Yes that is me in the picture)

By Sam Coles:

Video games is not the only hobby I enjoying doing, 4 years ago I got into long distance road cycling as my Dad introduced me to it and I loved it as I was able to explore for miles upon miles. I now ride between 40 to 60 plus miles a day which it keeps me in great shape, not only that I found that it has improved my skills as video game player, now I know what you’re thinking “How does that work”? Well I want to discuss how cycling and exercise in general can improve your skills.

About 5 years ago I didn’t really do much exercise, yes I would use a bicycle to get around but I would generally only do 10 miles at best I just saw it as a mode of transport and nothing else. I’ve been playing video games for most of my life and I was competent but I wouldn’t say I was amazing at them, I mean all you have to do is look at my kill/death ratio on Modern Warfare 2 compared to later iterations of Call of Duty.   

In 2014 I had to go see my friend a lot in Pucklechurch, which was about 13 miles from my place, at first I was using a mountain bike however it wasn’t long until I got a road bike. My father gave me his old road bike that he built himself when I was a small child with custom parts imported from France; we’re talking about an old school road bike here where we have shifters on the downtube coupled with 700c X 19 tyres. I started to enjoy the speeds I could get out of the bike, within six months I was averaging between 20 to 30 mph on flat roads coupled with 17 mph up hills.

Now you’re wondering what this has to do with improving my skills as a gamer, well what you have to be aware of is there are certain attributes of cycling that you obtain to help you keep going. Cycling improves memorisation, reflexes and general awareness of the space around me, this helped me with gaming especially online games, in games such as Call of Duty I found that I was doing insanely well because my reflexes had improved so much I was racking up triple kills every five minutes.

Memorisation helped me with games as I was able to traverse open worlds without looking at mini maps, not only that I was a lot better at solving puzzles in certain games, so I went back to older Resident Evil games and I was breezing through them. Spatial awareness really helped me with racing games and games like Grand Theft Auto, and in generally just made aware of everything within environments even down to me being able to spot snipers instantly in Battlefield. In games like Grand Theft Auto I found that I crashing less, as I could judge gaps better in between cars in tandem with my sharpened reflexes.

I found this to be more prominent when I revisited Burnout Paradise recently when I reviewed the remaster on Xbox One, I was crashing less compared to 15 year old Sam when I played back in 2008. Now don’t get me wrong I still crash in Burnout Paradise because as you know the game is not exactly slow, but I was crashing less frequently.

Cycling is something that I really enjoy these days and I love the fact that it has helped my gaming ability to a certain extent. I would highly encourage to take up exercise that increases reflexes if you’re gamer, plus just do it anyway to stay in shape and remember do something that you enjoy don’t force yourself to do something you know you’re not going to like.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Hitman Absolution Review - This time it's personal

By Sam Coles:

Hitman is a series I love with it’s fun although be it clunky stealth gameplay, however there is a title that has people split some site it as a downfall for the series where others find a great game due it being a more personal and emotional title for Agent 47. That game is Hitman Absolution, a game that I rather like and this is coming from someone who is a veteran of the series who has been playing them since 2003 with Hitman 2. Yes it is rather linear compared to other titles, but it is the tightest in terms of story and gameplay compared to the other games, with some fun methods of taking out a target.

Hitman Absolution begins with Agent 47 taking a new contract, but this is no normal contract as it is rather personal because he is tasked with assassinating his former handler Diana Burnwood who betrayed the Agency. Agent 47 has a change of heart just as he shoots her, oh the inconvenient timing of the human heart, he is then tasked with protecting a young girl named Victoria as the agency have a special interest in her as she is as deadly as 47. A lot of people don’t seem to like this game due to the more personal story of 47, but I liked how IO Interactive gave 47 an actual character rather than him being as relatable as a slab of tofu.

The gameplay is where it has everyone divided, on one hand the controls are refined and it doesn’t feel like you’re controlling someone with a stiff sheet of plywood jammed up their backside, on other hand people are not pleased with the more linear structure. I like the gameplay as they fixed a lot of the clunky issues that the last three games prior had, Agent 47 can now take cover which is great when you’re sneaking around or if you want to get a quick headshot with his trademark Silver Ballers. Shooting feels more precise and actually feels like you’re playing as an expert marksman, compared to the drunken shooting controls of the older games.

Agent 47 has a focus mode which seemed to be a trend in third person games back in the day with Splinter Cell: Conviction starting the trend. What this entails is that you can slow down time aim at serval targets, and then 47 will gun down serval enemies at once not only is this convenient but it looks amazing with duel pistols and seeing people fly across room in slow motion.

One of the aspects that put veterans of the series off was the fact that you didn’t have access to all the fun gadgets and weapons, however that was intentional due to the fact that 47 is no longer working for The Agency and has to use what he can in the environment. I like this aspect as you have to be more cautious and utilise the environment, which can range from poisoning food, dropping chandeliers on people’s heads or dress up as a scarecrow and strangle people.

The big problem I have with the gameplay is the disguise system, how it works is that you can kill someone and steal their clothes or find them in a locker etc. like other titles in the series. However they botched it in this game, it was already an unreliable system but this game assumes that ever chef, cleaner or police officer know each other, how you avoid people is by utilising the instinct system. Instincts is for when you’re not sure what to do as well as highlighting high value target’s movement, it is also a way to walk past people with the same clothes as you.   

Considering this game is six years old it is still a beautiful game to look at, character models have aged considerably well with Agent 47 being the standout with his blue, cold and intimidating eyes that send fear down his target’s spines. Environments have a lot of detail with huge crowds, with my favourite level being the Chinatown section with crowds of people, as you stand in plain sight watching your target’s every move.

Hitman Absolution was a different direction for the series; however this doesn’t make it a bad game as some would like you to believe. This is a personal journey for Agent 47 where he is more human in this game instead of the stone cold killer that he is in the previous games. I would recommend giving this a playthrough it’s super cheap and if you have an Xbox One it is playable via backwards compatibility.  

Monday, 7 May 2018

Editorial | My parents and video games.

By Sam Coles:

Over the years you have had parents that do not understand the video game medium; however it has lessened over time due to gamers becoming parents themselves or older generations understanding that it is a form of entertainment. My parents use to think that games were terrible, well my Dad did as he didn’t quite grasp why I love the medium especially games with graphic violence. I want to talk about my experience with my parents and video games how they went from skeptical to accepting them.

This journey starts in the late 90’s with my older brothers, I was very young as I was only 5 years old in 1998 my brothers use to sneak games into the house that were not appropriate such as Killer Instinct and the original Grand Theft Auto. These games are crude by today’s standards, but my parents were outraged and took the games away and saw them as nothing more as violence for the sake of violence which I can somewhat understand with the old Grand Theft Auto games.  I have vague memories of the 90’s with video games, but I remember playing mostly Mario and Zelda games, I didn’t really play 15-18+ age rated games until the PlayStation 2 generation when I was around 11/12 years old.

When we got a PlayStation 2 in the house I was exposed to more mature games, even though I was still not quite old to play certain games. However my parents were more lenient with me due to me being the youngest, but they did limit me with certain games so I could play titles such as Grand Theft Auto III- San Andreas but if had Mortal Kombat on the front of the box that was a big no, no. I generally had to explain the game and give them the basic context about the game and make sure to tell them that I understand that things that are in the game are unacceptable in real life, so they would let me play these more graphic titles as they knew it was complete fiction but they still didn’t have an understanding about games. It wasn’t until I got an Xbox 360 they developed an interest in games, not to play them but to watch them as games were maturing with storytelling and visuals.

I first got an Xbox 360 for my 16th birthday in 2009 with two games, those games were Halo 3 and the original Mass Effect, and this was where games were starting to mature with both visuals and storytelling as they moved out of their edgy teen phase. It wasn’t until I picked up a title called Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood where my Mum took an interest in the story, now don’t get me wrong my Mum plays games in a casual capacity hell she use to play the old arcade games back in 1970’s but never really had huge interest in them. It was fascinating because she would watch me play as if she was watching one of her soaps, when I would stop playing she would remark “I can’t wait to see what happens next”. 

The 7th generation of consoles was where my parents generated an interest with games in terms of the storytelling, one time my mother decided to fold laundry in my room for some reason and I was playing Max Payne 3. Max Payne 3 is graphic with the slow motion gunplay, but my Mum loves over the top action and plus I found her smirking at some of the quips that Max was spouting. It all began when I purchased Red Dead Redemption back in 2010, my parents were used to hearing explosions coming from my room as I use to play a lot of Call of Duty, however to their surprise they mostly heard dialogue. They asked “what are you watching”? I would say “I’m not I’m playing” they were surprised due to how well written the dialogue was.

With the current generation of gaming they are very impressed with how games can convey a story, I showed them the latest Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer and they even want to give it a go as they are fans of spaghetti westerns from the 60’s and 70’s. It’s fascinating to see them go from thinking games are mindless wastes of time to an art form that is held in high regard next to films, books and theatre. It took them a while to understand but they have grown an appreciation for the medium as it is a new way of conveying a story to a younger audience.   

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Editorial | Looking back at Grand Theft Auto IV 10 years later.

By Sam Coles:

There are certain games that you won’t believe that are 10 years old and feel as if they came yesterday, Grand Theft Auto IV is one of those games. 29th of April 2018 marks 10 years since the initial release of the game and I’m stunned that the game is that old, I want to talk about my feelings about this game when it first came out as I was a young gamer upon its release and probably shouldn’t have been playing it.

The year was 2007 and I was 14 years old studying at Monks Park (Orchard School now) and I was sitting there in ICT, I got a tap on my shoulder from a fellow classmate, who said to me “Have you seen the trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV”? I thought there is a new GTA game, because at the time I didn’t really use the internet and Youtube was in its infancy so viewing trailers wasn’t that simple. He pulled up the trailer and I was flawed by the graphics and how realistic they look, and yes it is laughable to look back at them today but in 2007 it was a big deal and innovation with visual fidelity. I couldn’t wait for it to come out, however in typical Rockstar Games fashion the game was delayed and delayed until it finally landed on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on the 29th of April 2008.

At the time I did not own an Xbox 360 or PS3 as I made the somewhat poor choice by getting a Wii for my 15th birthday, but fortunately I was able to experience the game with my friend who got a 360 with the game. When I first booted the game up, I was conflicted because it wasn’t colourful or goofy like the titles prior but when I got through the intro I found myself falling in love with the protagonist Niko Bellic. He is the most grounded in the series, it’s not that he is always serious as he as a great sense of humour, but he has a very dry wit when it comes to delivering quips and jokes. He is a refreshing character in the series because he was trying to escape his violent past, but ends up being trapped in this violent circle as he is trying to protect those who he loves.

The reason Grand Theft Auto IV still sticks in mind 10 years later is because of the world itself, it felt alive with dense traffic and a huge population of pedestrians that was not possible on the PlayStation 2. People reacted in a dynamic way from nudging them when you walk past as they shout profanity to shooting them in certain parts of their body. Yes, pedestrians would react in different ways if you shot them in certain places, shot them in the leg they will limp away, shot them in the hand if they’re armed they will drop their weapon as they are unable to operate the gun anymore with that hand. It was this level of detail that was not seen before; Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t even replicate this detail.

Car physics took a more realistic approach which split fans, some loved it as it gave the vehicles weight and impact and others hated it because they felt it was like controlling an old age pensioner pushing a trolley. I loved the driving in this game because it had more of an impact when you decided to repurpose your car as a bulldozer, as the damage physics has a lot of detail with bent bumpers, shatter windows and sparks flying everywhere.

The graphics have aged in some departments, the character models like chimpanzees but, the world and cars still look wonderful with detail buildings and water that still looks great as you glide across it with a speed boat. Explosions look amazing as you obliterate traffic with an RPG as you replicate a twisted version of Chinese New Year with high impact explosives.  

Grand Theft Auto IV was a stepping stone for the gaming industry, as it showcased that a series could grow up and tell a more mature and dark story with a grounded but fun setting of Liberty City. This is a game I will remember for another 10 years, Rockstar Games have continued to craft beautiful worlds, with great characters and gameplay and still do to this day, if you haven’t give this game a go and you may fall in love it like I did 10 years ago.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Editorial | Why The Elder Scrolls is special to me.

By Sam Coles:

I often tend to fall back on games when there are few releases or in between reviews and the series I often revisit are The Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim. Why would I constantly go back to those games? I hear you ask, well they are games that I can zone out and do whatever I want discovering new things.

The stories in The Elder Scrolls don’t really draw me, because since Morrowind Bethesda have fallen on a strange trope of you being a prisoner and being this almighty chosen one figure head. I’m not saying the stories are bad as I do like Skyrim’s with the Dragonborn, where you discover the history towards the end of the game where you team up with ghosts of previous Dragonborn warriors to fight Alduin.

What draws me to The Elder Scrolls games for the 10 plus years of playing the series are the worlds, the inhabitants and the history of said worlds. Oblivion was my first flirtation with the series as I remember experiencing it at a friend’s house who was playing it on his PlayStation 3, I was 14 years old at the time and I wanted it, but unfortunately I didn’t have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I had what was a beefy PC at the time and picked it up second hand on PC, yes you could buy second hand PC games back in those days. I remember being very excited installing the game, starting the game and being unleash into the world of Cyrodiil with a sense of wide eyed wonder.

Oblivion was my first exposure to a world that felt alive, now I know what you’re thinking that I must have played the Grand Theft Auto series before, and yes this is true but honestly I never felt the GTA games at the time felt alive as this was before the first HD game came out. Cyrodiil is a world I can explore for hours upon hours and find something new, to this day I can boot the game up and find something new that has been untouched for over a decade. I can explore each town, village and city and watch the NPC’s go about their business to then shut the game down and I think that those characters are still living their lives even when the game is off.

I remember the announcement of Skyrim back in 2011, I was super excited I didn’t get the game on the day of release as I picked it up when it went on sale in December of 2011. I got it for my Xbox 360 and put it into my console and I remember my excitement when I head the opening percussion of the musical score kicking in, and that is what got me first with this game was the soundtrack. The soundtrack is another aspect that is very special to me about the series, as it can be grand and epic to subtle, relaxing and sombre when you walk around the world and towns.

To this day I still play Skyrim, since I bought the remaster on my PS4 last year it has never left my hard drive. Although it is not my favourite Elder Scrolls game that goes to Oblivion, but Skyrim is a beautiful game that holds a special place in my heart as I can explore and with no particular goal and find something new, whether that is a new location or new weapons and armour.

At the end of the day The Elder Scrolls series is a franchise that I will go back to for years to come, they have these beautiful worlds to explore and live in that have aged surprisingly well if you ignore the character models. It’s a series that I will always revisit 10 years later or hell 30 years later which I can share with the younger generation.

Friday, 20 April 2018

DMC: Devil May Cry Review - An underappreciated reboot

By Sam Coles:

There are certain reactions I don’t understand from online communities as it can resemble a child in a supermarket who has been refused Haribo from their mother. DMC: Devil May Cry is a game that a lot of people don’t like and the only reason why, is that Ninja Theory had the audacity of changing the look of Dante. Instead of Dante sporting long white locks he has short black hair, let’s be honest guys Dante was never a likable character he has always had a cocky and irritating personality that make me want to slap him with a fly swatter. I play these games for the gameplay, plus I like the set up with the story in this game.

The story of DMC is about Dante who can’t remember his past; he is rudely awakened after a night of heavy drinking and love making with a pair of strippers who happen to be demons. A young woman named Kat warns him that the hunter demon is after him to kill the last of Sparda’s bloodline, at the time Dante is not aware that Sparda is his father. He meets up with his brother Virgil who unveils his past to him, which he then finds out he is half demon and half angel which grant him wolverine like regenerating powers. 
The story is decent we get more of an understanding of Dante’s character; yes it is as basic as it gets but it’s something.

Gameplay is where a lot of people had issues with the game due to its apparent simplification, but honestly it does pose a meaty challenge not Devil May Cry 3 levels of challenge but it is still tough in parts and will test you. Like the other titles in the series the game grades your combat skills higher and higher depending on how varied your moves are, which are then graded at D, C, B, A and eventually SSS. Unlike the other games it is very easy to get a SSS ranking with the combat as I managed to get it just by mashing quick attack and dodging, it’s not to say the combat isn’t fun it’s just that ranking system is a bit broken.

Considering that this is an Xbox 360 and PS3 game originally, the game looks fantastic with great detail with the character models and environments. When you traverse the normal world it has a boring and grey hue, which was the standard during that generation, but when you get pulled into limbo everything becomes vibrant and colourful with demons trying to kill you. Character models look great considering this is a five year old game it still holds up, facial animations are on point coupled with the crippling amount of detail with Dante’s jacket.

The only issues I had with the game is that like with most Capcom games during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era it has a lot of screen tearing, so every time you swing the camera around the screen will tear in a horrendous manner. Besides that there is not anything that stands out being objectively bad.

DMC: Devil May Cry is a great game, yes they changed the look of Dante but look at this way it is a soft reboot and a different interruption from a different studio, honestly I like the story in this game as they flesh out Dante’s character more compared to other games. This game is available for a cheap price on the Xbox 360 and PS3, or if you want to play it at a higher resolution and frame rate you can grab it on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.