Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Dragon Age: Origins Review - The game that got me through dark times.

By Sam Coles:

As well as Oblivion, Dragon Age: Origins is a game that is very personal to me as it got me through a dark and depressing period of my life. I was 17 years old and my A-levels were getting the better of me when I picked the game up from my local Blockbuster (Yes they were still a thing back then), where I saw it sat on the shelf. I picked it up impulsively without knowing anything about the game at all; I knew it was made by Bioware who made Mass Effect as there was only one game in that series as the second had yet to come out. I was enamoured with this world where I was the hero and people relied on me for help, I felt I was accomplishing something in this game.

Dragon Age: Origins takes place in the kingdom of Ferelden, where there is a dark force on the horizon known as the Darkspawn. The Grey Wardens are the only ones who have the knowhow of defeating these creatures, Duncan the current leader of the Wardens is on the lookout for new members as the citizens of Ferelden have ignored the warnings of the Grey Wardens. What is unique is that you have different introductions for each race you pick hence the “Origins” part in the title, but after that the games story generally stays the same with some of hand references to your character’s background. The story is amazing with loveable and very hateable characters as they are well written, where you loath or really care about certain characters, where you form bonds or disgust for different characters.

The gameplay is very familiar if you have played Knights of the Old Republic, where you control a party of warriors which you can switch between at any time to change their abilities or attacks. Combat is generally sedate on normal and you don’t have to use too many tactics, as you can generally get away with just using your character; however when you switch to hard or nightmare mode you have to be on your toes and start using your brain.

When you journey through the kingdom you’ll find new party members such as the lustful Morrigan to the charismatic Alistair. They are all unique with great abilities; my advice is to have at least one mage in your party as they have some devastating area of effect attacks.   

The presentation honestly has not aged well, to be fair this game came out eight years ago and this was a period where developers were getting to grasp with the Xbox 360 and PS3 still. The environments can look nice in some places, but can look bland, blurry and washed out in other areas. Character models look pretty bad with stiff animations, it looks as if someone stuck a pole up their backside in some scenes, but they do animate well in scripted cutscenes rather than in game conversations.

Dragon Age: Origins is a wonderful game and is one of my favourite games of all time, if you haven’t played it do it! It is super cheap these days and you can play it on Xbox One via backwards compatibility, but you can get on PS3 and for the superior controlling version get it on the PC. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The House of the Dead: Overkill Review - 1970's blacksploitation mixed with grindhouse.

By Sam Coles:

It’s a long time since we’ve had a House of the Dead game and last game was an absolute gem in the form of Overkill. The House of the Dead Overkill was released on the Nintendo Wii in 2009 and it is a hilarious ride from start to finish as it pokes fun at 1970’s blacksploitation films and the grindhouse genre. Should you pick up and play it today? Absolutely!

The House of the Dead Overkill goes through various scenarios, with their own quirky introduction with an over the top narrator. You have your two protagonists Agent G a rookie agent who does things by the books and detective Isaac Washington and as the game quotes “Make him mad and he’ll rip your balls off”. The story is corny and stupid in the best possible way and it will have you grinning ear to ear through, with plenty of gore, profanity and a rocking soundtrack. If you don’t like liberal use of the word fuck then this is probably not the game for you as it is constantly dropped throughout.  

The gameplay is a rail shooter, well you probably know if you are familiar with the series. You go through each level gunning down waves upon waves of the undead until you get to a boss; the bosses are unique and can be rather grotesque. One boss was formed by a mad man who has an incestuous relations with his mother and yes this game was approved by Nintendo believe or not. There is not much else to discuss about the gameplay due its simplistic nature, sure there are time attack modes etc. but in general there is not much else which is standard of rail shooters as you’re supposed to play them multiple times for high scores etc.  

Considering that this was released on the underpowered Nintendo Wii the game looks really good, with excellent character models and great animations from the Zombies. Bear in mind that this console is a standard definition system and it did look rather blurry on my 50 inch 1080p television, but that can be remedied with a HDMI adaptor which up scales the image similar to the device I have for my PS2. Overall the presentation is great with film grain effects to emulate the 1970’s style of film although this can get a bit irritating which unlike Wet you can’t turn the film grain effects off.

The House of the Dead Overkill is a fun and stupid adventure you should playthrough as it doesn’t take itself seriously which is a rarity in today’s gaming climate. You can find this for super cheap on the Wii these days or if you have a PS3 with move controllers you can pick it up on that with updated graphics running at a silky 1080p resolution, so dust off your move controllers and blast the undead into chunks.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Syndicate (2012) Review - Trying to be Deus Ex.

By Sam Coles:

In late 2011 EA games announced that there are going to reboot the hit table top RPG Syndicate, however it wasn’t going to be an RPG it was instead going to be a first person shooter, which were very popular at the time. This angered a lot of people because before this game there hasn’t been a Syndicate game since early 90’s. Does this make the game bad? No, although it is a tad uninspired with a few interesting mechanics.

Stop me if this sounds like Deus Ex Human Revolution, the game takes place in a dystopian future where most people in society are augmented with chips implanted in their bodies, which give them special abilities. Businesses are in constant battle to become the dominant supplier of said chips, where they employ agents to sabotage their competitor’s operations. You play as an agent named Kilo who is tasked to take down other businesses by any means possible, however Kilo starts to see flashes of his past as his memory was wiped when he was taken as a child to be trained as an agent. The story is somewhat interesting as you get further into the game, however the protagonist is a mute and it’s hard to feel for him when he doesn’t say a word, now I’m not saying silent characters are necessarily bad, but it if they have a complex past you can’t really convey that with a mute.

How does the gameplay fair? Well think of it as your typical corridor shooter with a sprinkle of Dues Ex Human Revolution but with streamlined mechanics. You have standard shootouts with your action hero goons that run at you with no regard of human life. You have a vast of array of weapons starting with your standard, say it with me now pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and SMGs. However when you get further into the game you get access to more exotic weapons like my favourite the Gauss Rifle which can lock onto enemies and shoot around corners, which is great for taking down enemies who like sitting in cover for long periods of time.

What’s unique about this game is that when you kill certain targets you can extract their chips that are embedded in their bodies; these can be used to upgrade your powers. You have three powers to use in gunfights you have backfire which jams guns which I don’t use often, suicide which makes enemies pull out a grenade and explode it great for dealing with crowds and finally betrayal which makes the enemy fight alongside you. These powers are mostly situational as most combat scenarios can be solved with a quick bullet to the cranium.  

Visually the game looks fantastic, with some great effects when you’re walking through the neon lit streets at night with beautiful rain effects which show up on your screen. The only problem I have with the visuals is that the bloom effects can get a bit ridiculous in some areas where it almost blinds me, this was an issue during 2012 they over did bloom effects. The game does struggle to run at 30 frames per second which is its target frame rate, but it starts to drop in the more busy sections maybe it’s because I’m playing it on the PS3 as that system is known for bad multiplatform releases, or maybe the game is not optimised properly.

Syndicate is a game that tries to be Dues Ex, but is held back by linear gameplay and uninspired powers it’s not a bad game, but it is really uninspired and it is also really short, I managed to finish it in 4 hours. It’s cheap so if you really want to pick it up it’s not going to break the bank. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

DRIV3R (Driver 3) Review - It has its issues but has a fantastic story.

By Sam Coles:

The driver series has dropped off the radar in recent years with the last game in the series was released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 back in 2011. Driv3r (Driver 3) was an interesting game as it was the first game in the series to be released on the 6th generation of consoles, with improved visuals, new cities and interesting mechanics added. The game was panned when it was first released, but I have a soft spot for this game as it has cinematic flare with a well told story. Is it perfect? God no but it’s not unplayable as some people would have you believe.

Driver 3 takes place a few years after the second game and opens with an explosive shootout on the streets of Istanbul, as Tanner and his partner Jones are chasing down long-time nemesis Jericho. It turns out that this first scene is near the end and the game starts off in the humid and neon lit streets of Miami, where Tanner is uncovering a car smuggling ring based in South Beach where they are starting to branch out into Europe. It’s a great story with people like Michael Madison and Iggy Pop lending they’re voice talent, as well as Iggy Pop providing the soundtrack. It’s not the most ground breaking story, but it is beautifully executed and I have to say this game has the best cutscenes from that period as some scenes can get their point across with little dialogue, as it lets the music and environment do it in the dialogue’s place.

Driver 3 is an open world game in the same vein of Grand Theft Auto, but instead of one city Driver 3 has three cities you have Miami, Nice in France and Istanbul in Turkey. Each city is different and unique as you don’t really see cities like Nice and Istanbul rendered in video games and they have exquisite detail. You have several different modes you have the story mode titled Undercover, you have Take a Ride where you can mess around and do what you want in each city and you have challenge modes such as survival.

The gameplay is mostly driving like the previous games, but they have added on foot missions with shooting, however the controls when you’re on foot are not the best and the hit detection with the shooting is rather questionable.  The driving is the game’s strength, where the cars have real weight as you fling them around corners as you hear your tyres scream. Cars handle well for the most part, they don’t feel floaty compared to the Grand Theft Auto games of the time, as they have a realistic feel to them while at the same time it has a cinematic flare similar to films like Smoky and the Bandit with the jumps etc.

Visually the game is okay, the character models aren’t the best as you look very blocky during gameplay with very little detail on them. The environments look nice with each city with the sun blazing in the afternoon in Miami, to the sun setting on the tight streets of Istanbul. Car models look fantastic with great detail for each car, coupled with great damage models as you can see your car crumble under pressure when you have hit a wall head on.

Driver 3 is not the best game in the world, but it is propped up by its excellent story with great performances from Michael Madison, to the beautifully directed cutscenes. If you have a PS2 or original Xbox pick this game up, but don’t pick up the PC version as it is notorious for being extremely buggy and unstable.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Assassin's Creed II Review - Fixes most of the issues from the original.

By Sam Coles:

The Assassin’s Creed series has been around for 10 years now, it’s hard to believe as I remember when the first game came out and being blown away by the visuals, my 14 year old mind couldn’t contain myself. Although the first game had a few flaws it was a great game, with interesting mechanics and locales, two years later Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed II and it is one of the best games released in 2009 and possibly of the 7th generation.

Assassin’s Creed II takes place in the 14th century in renaissance Italy were you take control of the charismatic Ezio Auditore, who is a trouble making young man who works for his father as a courier. One day he finds out his father has been falsely detained for treason, Ezio has a pardon letter to get him out of trouble, however corrupt officials that are Templars discard the letter and his family are executed in front of him. It’s a classic tale of revenge, but it is executed superbly as you see Ezio go from na├»ve teenager to a wise middle age man.

The gameplay takes what propped up the original with its free running mechanic and tweaks them, as it now feels less clunky with Ezio moving freely rather than moving at a snail’s pace.  The combat has been mostly left unchanged, although they have given you new skills in combat to help tackle the situation such as being able to disarm opponents, this can help a lot with the brute enemies. 

However the combat in Assassin’s Creed II is not terribly engaging as you find yourself standing there waiting for them to strike, where you then press the counter button and repeat. It kind of reminds of Ocarina of Time’s combat, I know that is an odd comparison but that game has the same issue where you’re mostly waiting in combat and it doesn’t require skill.  

You have four massive sprawling open world maps across Italy, you have Florence, Venice, Tuscany and Forli. All of these cities have exquisite detail and still look good today considering the game came out in 2009 on the 360 and PS3. There is a lot to do, but most of the activities feel like padding and don’t really add anything to the overall experience, except for the extra faffing about quota.

You have a Tuscan villa that you must manage as it has a small economy, with shops and trade happening within them. You expand your villa by investing your money within them by opening new shops etc. the more you invest the more you get back, it’s a quick way to make money and this mechanic was expanded greatly in Brotherhood.  

Visually the game still looks really good considering it came out 8 years ago; with excellent detail within each city they have recreated the renaissance cities of Italy beautifully. All the buildings look beautiful and I still think the environments look good today; However the character models do not share the same fate. Character models look very stilted and dated with blurry textures and unnatural animations with movement and lip syncing, but this was during the period when developers were still getting to grips with the Xbox 360 and PS3. The musical score is beautiful as well, with the haunting foreboding score as you run across the rooftops of Venice, to the welcoming tones of Florence as you explore the market all the tracks are thematically appropriate.

Assassin’s Creed II is a beautiful game that you should play today, it’s available on Xbox 360 and PS3, but you can also play it on Xbox One and PS4 via the Ezio Collection which also comes with Brotherhood and Revelations.  

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Warriors All Stars Review - All your favourite Koei Tecmo characters in a Warriors game.

By Sam Coles:

Omega Force seem to be a well-oiled machine pumping out their Warriors franchise at an unbelievable rate, as we have had several this year already with an open world debut with Dynasty Warriors 9 coming out soon. Warriors All Stars is what would happen if you take all the characters from Koei Tecmo and put them in a Warriors game, think of it as Omega Forces Smash Bros but with Koei Tecmo characters.

The story is rather weird as some unknown evil force is corrupting everyone in the world that this game is set in, where friends are fighting each other. It’s almost similar to Smash Bros Bawl’s story where you have this vague force corrupting everyone. The story is uninspired and it’s just there to set up the context for you to slaughter the legions of enemies. Voice acting is somewhat decent with a mixture of English and mostly Japanese. However some pieces of dialogue are delivered during battles and this can be annoying with the characters speaking Japanese as the text is in the bottom left of the screen where your eyes are not focused on.

The gameplay is mostly unchanged from other Warriors games, where you’re thrown into a massive and open environment, where legions of enemies try and yet fail to kill you. The combat is still satisfying as you cut down hordes of goons as you see about 30 of them fly into the air team rocket style. What is new is that you can choose a party of Warriors from different games in Koei Tecmo’s library; I went with Ryu Hayabusa, which gave me characters from Team Ninja games such as the new character William from Nioh. You can freely swap each character during battle if one is low on health or you want to pull a specific special move.

However the formula is largely the same from the Berserk game and Samurai Warriors, where you get into massive battles and return to a hub area after. This style of gameplay is fine, but it starting to get a tad samey, as we have had 3 soon to be 4 Warriors style games within 6 months and I’m starting to feel the weight of the repetitive nature.

Visually the game looks really good, with a cartoon aesthetic with bright and vibrant colours throughout. Character models look detailed with great animations, however some of the environments look a bit bland and fall flat in some areas, this looks as if it was on the PS3 and they just ported it to the PS4. The biggest issue is that the game runs at 30 frames per second or tries to run at that targeted frame rate, as it seems to struggle in some sections when it gets busy in the more intense fights. I don’t understand why it doesn’t run at 60 because honestly it’s not the most demanding game in the graphical department, as there are games on the PS4 with high graphical fidelity and run at a high frame rate.

Overall Warriors All Stars is yet another Warriors game; it’s not inherently bad it just lacks any innovation. It is good fun for about five minutes, but there are only so many times I can use light attack and heavy attack to kill hordes of enemies. Let’s hope Dynasty Warriors 9 shakes up the formula when it releases in about a month. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Review - Pushing the PS2 to its limits.

By Sam Coles:

It’s hard to believe that we got three Grand Theft Auto games in a short space of time on the PlayStation 2, with each instalment rising in quality. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was first released on the PS2 back in 2004 and was the last game in the series to be released on the sixth generation of consoles, as four years later we got Grand Theft Auto IV a game completely different in tone. Rockstar once again took inspiration from popular film as San Andreas is basically Boys in the Hood.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas takes place in the early 90’s, where you start off in Los Santos which is a small recreation of Los Angles. You play as Carl Johnson who has come home from Liberty City as he finds out that his mother has died and has come back for her funeral. It’s not long until he is stopped by Officer Tenpenny who is a corrupt police officer who blackmails Carl. Carl sees how much of a mess his former street gang Grove St is and he ends up staying to help his brother out by settling the war between them and two other gangs. However after you leave the first island the whole gang element gets swiftly bushed under the carpet, which makes me think what the point was introducing it. Unlike other GTA games, San Andreas does not take place in one city but instead it is set across several cities in one state and this blew my mind when it first came out as it pushed the PS2 to its limits.

Gameplay was tweaked compared to Vice City, controls for driving and on foot have weight to them compared to the floaty nature of the last two games. Cars feel great to control and have a sense of realism to them; it’s not completely realistic like GTA IV as you can still throw a car around the corner while flooring it with no regard to human safety. Carl feels great to control when running, however the shooting is still clunky as at this point there was still no dedicated cover system as you have to awkwardly hide behind a wall and try and shoot your target. They added stealth mechanics in certain missions but these are an afterthought as all you do is crouch with enemies with a questionable field of view.

Visually the game doesn’t look great, character models look extremely dated where there hands look like frozen sausages that are stuck together. There are some nice touches with the environments, such as the heat waves when you’re in the heart of Los Santos during a hot sunny day. Mostly though the game has not aged gracefully in the graphics department, which is to be expected as most PS2 games have not aged well with very few exceptions.

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is a great game! Is it the best game in the series as some like to proclaim? No, it’s not as that title goes to Vice City, but it is a highly ambitious game for the PS2 as it really pushed the hardware to its limits with the sheer scale and size of the game. You can get it for fairly cheap on the PS2 or you can pick up the PS3/360 remaster or you can get the PS4 HD port on PSN. You have lots of choices when it comes to playing the game.