Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Saint's Row 2 Review - Bonkers GTA knock off!

By Sam Coles:

If I say Saint’s Row these days you would associate it with bonkers off the wall humour where you can fly through the air and super punch someone across the map. However during its humble beginning it was nothing more than a Grand Theft Auto clone which was first released on the Xbox 360 exclusively. Saint’s Row 2 was the first game in the series that I played and it was released in 2008 on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and was still a GTA clone but had some unique features. It was still a grounded experience like the first game for the most part with the whole gang warfare aspect.

The story takes place directly after the events of the first game where you find yourself in prison injured after you’re taken into custody in isolation as you’re a very dangerous man, even the prison guards fear you. It’s not long until you wake up and this where you customise your appearance to an insane degree. You are freed by a fellow gang member and you find that Stillwater has been taken over by four factions and you must take it back. The factions are unique and fun you have the Sons of Samedi a gang that uses voodoo magic, the Ronin a Chinese based gang with swords, The Brotherhood the tattoo covered loons and Ultor a private security company that wants marshal law. The game’s story is fun and over the top but it does have some serious and emotional moments especially with a certain member of your gang being murdered you’ll know if you’ve played it.

The game if you can’t tell is an open world sandbox but unlike its competitor GTA IV at the time Saint’s Row 2 is brimming with content which all fun and varied from the ridiculous but fun insurance fraud where the rag doll physics give the finger to the laws of gravity to you flinging excrement at houses in a septic truck. The activities are a lot of fun and also necessary to progress in the game as the game will fold its arms until you have gained a certain amount of respect through the side activities so this gives you an incentive to try out each side mission as they reward you with progression through the story.

Driving is a lot of fun in this game as it does not take a realistic approach as it is a kin to something like Burnout with tight and arcady controls. It’s also fun to run people over as they don’t crack over your bonnet realistically but instead rocket into the sky like a cartoon character. Shooting on the other hand is rather clunky as you’re constantly in a free aim mode which usually isn’t a problem if you’re playing on a mouse and keyboard but on a controller it feels odd as it lacks auto targeting or targeting assist.

There are a plethora of cars to choose from and they can be customised to your hearts content this was a big selling point of Saints Row as it had more features than GTA IV at the time which GTA got rid of as they were testing the waters for then new 360 and PS3. It’s a lot of fun to customise your vehicle as you can add spikes to your car rims to take down other cars which is a lot of fun.

The presentation is okay not great but it’s not horrible, the character models especially have aged awfully with laughable animations during cutscenes, but to be fair this game is nearly 10 years old and was released during the early days of the 7th generation. The city looks great with heavy traffic and neon lights at night coupled with the beautiful sunrises.

Saint’s Row 2 is a great GTA style game that does not take itself seriously with over the top and cartoonish violence coupled with some fun gameplay mechanics. The game is super cheap these days you can pick it up for £2 these days so if you have your PS3 or 360 knocking about still dust it off and give it a go.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Two Worlds Review - My guilty pleasure.

By Sam Coles:

There was once a time on consoles where the Tolkien style RPG were far and few and only two major contenders were on the market one of them being one of my favourite games of all time The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and a year later Two Worlds. Two Worlds was immediately compared to Oblivion because both had a similar setting and mechanics but Two Worlds said it was going to put Oblivion to shame with a bigger world and more in depth features. While some of that was true Two Worlds was met with negative to lukewarm reception due to the laughable voice acting and technical issues when it came to the frame rate, but I still love it for some reason. I played it during a long and wet summer and just loved exploring the world finding new weapons, armour, villages and just getting into trouble with the local guards. It’s not perfect by all means but games with these sort of quirks could get away with a few technical short comings back in 2007 as people looked past them as long as they didn’t get in the way too much.

Two Worlds take place in the world of Antiloor where you are a lone adventurer traveling with your sister who is gravely injured and even opens with a Monty Python reference and yes it is the Holy Grail. A few months pass and you’re working in a farming community and mysterious man named Gandohar says he has his sister who has the spirit of an Orc god within her. You must go on an epic adventure to find talismans of the four elements earth, wind, fire and water. The setup is completely unoriginal as the original Final Fantasy did it back in 1987 but it is basic for a reason as the game doesn’t really interrupt you until the credits roll.
The game let’s go and do whatever you to do from the get go although there is a brief tutorial to let you get the hang of combat whether it is melee or magic based as you have to go and clear out a cave full of bandits. The game has a steep learning curve as the difficulty can be extremely brutal at the start of the game but once you start levelling up and unlocking new weapons and armour you become unstoppable and are more capable of taking on new challenges.  

Combat can be a bit awkward with weird wind ups and swings from your characters coupled with the hilarious sound design where it sounds like your punching your enemy rather than slashing or stabbing them. Magic is a good system where you play with physical effects and elemental damage which can cause some devastating outcomes.

The presentation is not great when it comes to the character models as they look like they have sausage links for arms with awkward animations. The environments look good they’re varied when you travel the region from the standard countryside villages to feudal Japan inspired cities and jungles, this is what I like about the game as each environment is distinct from the other.

There are a lot of problems with Two Worlds but underneath the issues is an engaging RPG, yes the voice acting is horrendous and the frame rate can be a bit of a pain however it is fun if you want to have a time burner with a big expansive world to explore with lots of quests. The game is cheap and easy to find so pick it up if you ever see it. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Metroid Prime Review - Dripping with atmosphere.

By Sam Coles:

Metroid may not be the franchise it once was these days but back in the early 2000’s during the GameCube’s lifecycle the Metroid Prime games were king. However it wasn’t always the case as a lot of people were hesitant of Samus journeying into the realm of the third dimension. Metroid Prime was announced in the year 2000 and was announced that an unproven (at the time) third party studio called Retro Studios would take helm of the franchise. They announced that it was going to be a first person shooter and a lot of fans did not like the idea of turning Metroid into a shooter, but when the game came out it was praised by fans and critics. Does Metroid Prime still hold up 16 years later? Surprisingly yes it still feels like a modern game.

Metroid Prime begins in space where Samus is sent to a space station with a destress signal which is suspended above a planet called Talon 4. It turns out the space pirates are up to no good once again and Samus must clear them out, kill the parasitic queen and then escape as everything crumbles around her. Her old nemesis Ridley turns out to be alive but this time rocking a metal body as he is then dubbed Meta Ridley, he ends up attacking Samus and she ends up losing her Varia suit and all of her abilities the usual set up. She then goes to the surface of Talon 4 and ends up exploring the ancient ruins where she discovers a material called Phazon which has corrupted the wild life. The story like in all Metroid games is very much environmental based so you choose your own level of immersion similar to Half-Life and I like this sort of storytelling as it never gets in the way of gameplay.

The gameplay is a mix of first person shooting, exploration and platforming which all gel together to make a great experience. You would think with the new perspective that the shooting would take centre stage, but it doesn’t as it retains the same Metroid style where it’s all about soaking up the environments. The lore of worlds you explore were fleshed out more as you have the ability to scan pretty much anything even enemies, it makes the world feel alive that these lifeforms and structures have been there for thousands of years. Combat is fast and tight with smooth aiming, but it does compensate for the fact that it is a console shooter by including auto targeting I never felt like I was wrestling with the controls.

The presentation is still amazing for a game that is 16 years old with beautiful weather effects from the murky rain soaked swamps to the dry and baron deserts with ancient ruins. The character model of Samus is highly detailed with a nice shine. The game runs at a smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second and I’m astonished considering the graphical detail.

I’m surprised how well Metroid Prime has aged considering its how old it is because not a lot of games from the early 2000’s have aged gracefully. If you have a GameCube pick it up or you can play it on the first model of the Wii via backwards compatibility or if you own a Wii U you can download it with the other two games via the E-Shop. 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Call of Duty Black Ops II Review - Welcome to 2025.

By Sam Coles:

The Call of Duty series is a franchise I love and I tend to get a lot of negative comments when I say that and get called “a casual gamer”. I’m not I play all sorts of games from hardcore RPG’s to first person shooters, I take the COD series for what it is a fun and dumb shooter with entertaining campaigns and multiplayer you can jump in and out quickly with friends or alone. Black Ops II is easily one of the best games in the series and was the last game to be developed specifically for the Xbox 360 and PS3 as Ghosts was a cross generation game. Five years down the line and the game still proves to be popular due to the fact that Microsoft added it to the Xbox One library via the backwards compatibility program. Should you pick it up today? In short yes.

Call of Duty Black Ops II is split in two timelines 2025 where you play as David Mason and 1986 where you play as his father Alex Mason. These timelines are linked as the events of 1980’s show what happened to the main villain Raul Menendez and why he hates the Mason family and the United States so much. Menendez was a small time gun runner dealing guns to an African militia where Mason has a run in with him where he ends up shooting him in the eye where he then swears revenge on him. The story is fantastic and for the first and only time had a branching narrative where there were different endings to the campaign these can range from good to bad depending on your actions.

Not a lot has changed from the other Call of Duty games when it comes to gameplay you simply point at something pull the trigger and shoot. As it is set in the not too distant future you would think there would be some sci-fi gadgetry, well no the technology is fairly grounded the future timeline is used so they can get away with the politics more than anything. You have control of drones and predator missiles the standard modern warfare weaponry so there are no space lasers like there in Black Ops III or Infinite Warfare. 

Multiplayer was a huge step in this game compared to the original game as it tweaked a lot of the issues in terms of the balancing, net code and features. The net code was fixed and there was less lag compared to the abysmal connection of the original Black Ops and World at War. There were new game modes including Hardpoint which was similar to Domination but with one capture point that shifts around the map. Party games once again return from the original such as Sticks and Stones, One in the Chamber and my favourite Gun Game.

Visually the game looks great with fantastic animations from the character models and good visual feedback when you shoot someone with blood flying everywhere. The game runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second although it can drop during the busier sections and in multiplayer matches when it gets chaotic. Considering this is a five year old game it is amazing how good this game looks still.

Black Ops II has to be one of the best Call of Duty games on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and people are still talking about it today and playing it today. If you missed it the first time pick it up and if you’re an Xbox One owner you can play it via the backwards compatibility program.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Binary Domain Review - A unique third person shooter.

By Sam Coles:

If you were around during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era you’ll remember that the third person cover based shooter was really popular with the success of Gears of War with other games trying to emulate its said success. You don’t see them around as much these days as the open world genre has become the default template for developers. However there was a unique hidden gem on the 360 and PS3 called Binary Domain with an interesting story and good squad based gameplay from the same developers who made the Yakuza series.

Binary Domain takes place in the distant future where the world has been overflowed with water and the human race created robots to help rebuild society. The governments around the world had to make a new Geneva Convention for robotics where militaries and corporations are not allowed to make robots that mimic humans. These are dubbed hollow children where they look like humans but are robots underneath, however they don’t know they are robots and are completely clueless. A hollow child ends up attacking people and a team is sent in to Japan to extract a man who is known for manufacturing the hollow children. A team of different Special Forces from the US, China, France and the UK are sent in to clean up the mess.

At first you would think “oh no it’s another generic third person shooter from the 7th generation”. Yes it does seem fairly standard at first but it sprinkles different mechanics to make it stand out from the crowd. You have a trust mechanic with your squad and how this works is that they will trust more if you give them specific responses during dialogue and this in tandem will make them respond to you more efficiently in battle. However if you give them a poor response or shoot them they will lose faith in you, this is good most of the time but it can be a pain as your AI team mates have a habit of getting in the way during firefights which can be aggravating.

The shooting is satisfying in this game as when you shoot an opponent their body parts just explode into shrapnel as you’ll be fighting robots. It can be used to your tactical advantage targeting different body parts such as arms where they can no longer use assault rifles to blowing their heads off which disorientates them and they end up turning on their allies.

The presentation is beautiful with excellent animations from the character models coupled with the environments which take a Blade Runner style with atheistic with fantastic rain effects at the start of the game. The game does struggle with the frame rate in some parts especially with the giant robot boss battles as they do take up a lot of the screen as they send hundreds of missiles your way but it doesn’t happen too often.

I was pleasantly surprised with Binary Domain it’s an interesting shooter with a good narrative and great gameplay. It’s a super cheap game these days I picked up my copy for 99p so you’re getting more than your money’s worth so pick it up if you have the chance.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Yakuza 4 Review - A great crime drama.

By Sam Coles
Back in the day during the peak of the 7th generation of consoles I wouldn’t touch Japanese games with a ten foot barge pole. Why is that? I wasn’t a fan of the quirkiness when it came to the humour etc. however with the PS4 I have been exposed to some gems like Yakuza 0. After playing Yakuza 0 I went back and played Yakuza 4 on the PS3 which has been sat on my shelf for a while and it is a fantastic game you should play if you have a PS3 knocking around still.

Yakuza 4’s story is told from not one but four different protagonist Akiyama a charismatic money lender who doesn’t charge interest, Saejima a man who is on death row after murdering 18 Yakuza members, Tanimura a young but corrupt police officer and finally the series staple Kiryu who is more a background character in this game. They offer new cast who get embroiled in another power struggle in the Tojo clan where they have to stop them and Kiryu basically comes back to bang their heads together and then runs off back to his orphanage in Okinawa. The story is very engaging and as usual the Japanese cast pull off a superb performance with excellent voice acting. The story is really dark in places however it’s not afraid to crack a smile to lighten the tone this is what I like to call the Metal Gear effect as it disarms you for those emotional moments.

The gameplay is largely unchanged from the last three games where you have the open hub of Kamurocho a fictional district of Tokyo where you’re free to explore hostess clubs, bars, restaurants and play Sega classics in arcades. When you’re moving around the world you’ll get into the fights and these play out similar to Final Fantasy in terms of the random encounters as there will be the flashy transition and you’ll be in battle mode. When you’re in combat the controls are similar to a fighting game and it is really satisfying to nail a combo as you see blood fly everywhere when you beat the living daylights out of a thug with a bicycle.

Each character has a unique style ranging from a happy medium to strong and slow which can take some getting used to but it keeps the fighting fresh and varied. You have an ability called heat and what this entails is that you can pull off finishers which are spectacularly brutal from a standard curb stomp to jamming a baseball bat in your enemy’s mouth.

The visuals look beautiful but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a PS3 exclusive as most exclusives on the PS3 far exceed anything that the 360 could do. Animation with lip syncing during cutscenes look beautiful perfectly matching the voices coupled with the insane detail of district you explore is beautiful it feels alive.

The only issue I have with the game is that the dialogue swaps from fully voiced to text which is annoying because the acting in the game when it’s fully voiced is amazing I don’t understand why they swap between the two.

Overall Yakuza 4 is a great crime drama from start to finish with some dark and tense moments with some funny moments to lighten the tone. It can be really hard to find due to the low distribution in the west and you can’t find it below £10 I got lucky one time but you’re generally going to find it for £15-£20+. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Division Review - Doesn't feel like a Tom Clancy game.

By Sam Coles:

Tom Clancy games are far and few these days but they have somewhat lost their spark due to the fact that he is no longer with us. Some people would argue about his involvement in the games but I would argue against that because he was involved especially in the early days of games, I mean come on he created and founded Red Storm Studios who made the Tom Clancy games. You could really tell that Tom Clancy games really wanted to emulate military situations even the more movie like games like Splinter Cell were still somewhat realistic but then Ubisoft took them over and wanted to compete with games like Call of Duty and that’s not what fans want. Does The Division fulfil the niche market for Tom Clancy fans? No but it’s not a bad game but it’s not a Tom Clancy game and I don’t understand why it has his name stamped on it as it could of easily stood on its own as a new title.

Tom Clancy’s Division takes place in New York City after a devastating virus has struck the city called the Black Friday bug as it was spread on the day of consumerism through dollar bills. You are an agent of The Division called in to curb the situation where bandits and mercenary groups who have taken over the island of Manhattan as they’re stealing food, clothes and other luxuries due to the island being abandoned due to people fleeing or dying. It’s an interesting premise as it is a mixture of I am Legend and Resident Evil but it’s a shame that it is poorly executed with poor storytelling and lacklustre acting. However this is an MMO shooter hybrid so it has a basic set up and lets you get on with it.

The gameplay is a third person shooter mixed with MMO and dungeon crawling so basically it’s Diablo with guns without the interesting looking loot which is understandable as it is set in a grounded universe rather than a fantasy one. You take on missions which can range from rescuing hostages to stopping bandits from stealing medical supplies, at first these can be fun but after a while it starts to get repetitive and boring. During main missions towards the end you’ll go up against gang leaders which become very tedious as you get further into the game as they become bullet sponges as this creates an illusion of difficulty. This is what I like to call the Gears of War effect where they dial up the enemy’s health and turn your health down.

Visually the game looks pretty good not as good as the E3 trailer we got a few years back but it still looks good with great lighting when the sun rises over Manhattan to the glass shattering when you hit car windows. The sound design is excellent but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Tom Clancy game with loud reverberating sounds when you fire a shot inside buildings to the loud explosions when a frag grenade goes off.

Is Tom Clancy’s The Division worth picking up? I would say yes as I managed to pick up my copy for £9.99 and yes it can get repetitive but that is the nature of these types of games and it is largely enjoyable especially with friends.