DLC

Mortal Kombat X Review

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Over the next 1400 words, I’m going to show you that all of your problems can be solved by punching.

download“Beat ‘em ups”, as a young Jamie used to call them, have always had a twisted place in my heart. I have dabbled in a few Tekkens, Street Fighters and Marvel Vs Capcoms. But, deep down, I’ve always been a Mortal Kombat kinda kid. The game has come a long way since the SEGA Mega Drive days, when I very nearly weed myself in fear after accidentally performing a fatality, to create what is one of the best looking fighter games in years. You know, in a gory, intestiney kind of way.

...oops.
…oops.

Mortal Kombat X is a direct sequel to the brilliant Mortal Kombat (2011), so it’s impossible not to compare it to its predecessor. In short….it doesn’t quite weigh up. Not to the 2011 game, and also not to NetherRealm’s 2013 release, Injustice. As with many fighting games, MKX features a story mode. Now, whilst some people may argue that story modes don’t belong in fighting games, I respectfully disagree (and will fight you to defend my point). The story mode adds a bit more bang for your buck, which in this economic climate when games cost £45 you need! Story mode will only take you about three hours or so to complete, but it’s a nice way to expand on the intriguing Mortal Kombat lore. It picks up pretty much where 2011’s MK ended: pretty much everyone is dead, and the fallen Elder God Shinnok is trying to restore his power. The thing is, no one really is dead; it’s revealed pretty early on that pretty much every playable character that was brutally murdered during 2011’s story mode has essentially become a zombie working for sorcerer Quan Chi. It’s kind of ironic that, in a game that thrives on the gory deaths that it creates, death isn’t really an issue. In fact SPOILER ALERT some characters even gets un-zombified and restored to normal, rendering everything redundant. Compared to 2011 MK’s nostalgic reboot, MKX’s story certainly falls short. The whole premise, as mentioned, is trying to stop Shinnok…but, I’m sorry, I just don’t feel threatened by a bad guy that looks like the Monarch. There are some interesting, new characters, but the best ones such as mercenary Erron Black are just side-lined – instead, you are forced to play as tween hero Cassie Cage and her lame friends (apart from Takeda…Takeda is awesome).

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Quan-ChiN

Yes, four of the new characters introduced are some sort of offspring/cousin/milkman of previously existing characters. Mortal Kombat’s character birthday list is ever extensive, with now over 70 characters featured collectively throughout games. You wonder, then, why they choose to bring back characters such as Reptile but leave out fan favourites Noob Sailbot and Smoke? It seems completely ridiculous. With today’s technology, you would imagine that they could perhaps give us an even bigger roster, like that which we saw in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Fans who pre-purchased the game have been treated to Goro, who non-loyal fans can now buy (shame on you!), which is an issue I will cover later. Fortunately, characters are diverse enough that each one plays differently. Additionally, every character comes with three variations that alter their special skills slightly. They’re not vastly different, but offer enough to change up the flow of combat (sorry, kombat) from fight to fight. The x-ray skill also makes its return, with some very creative ways of breaking your opponents’ bones and testicles. But I find myself more reserved when using them – I’m not sure why, they still appear to do the same amount of damage as they did in the 2011 game (around 30%), but they just don’t seem as awesome. Mortal Kombat’s trade mark Fatalities make an obvious return too. Some of these are absolutely fantastic and tongue-in-cheek, full of gore and splendour. Some…not so much. Quite a few just feel bland and leave you wanting more. Additionally, you can now purchase (with both in-game and irl money) ‘easy Fatality’ passes, allowing you to input the command with one button. This results in the finishing moves being pretty pointless, apart from some aesthetic pleasure. Once, it was an achievement to pull off such a crazy move…but now, anyone with a finger can do it. It’s political correctness gone mad! Thankfully, Mortal Kombat has included Brutalities. These finishing moves require you to meet a certain number of objectives in a match, such as throw three knives or tickle your opponent’s feet, then perform a certain move, resulting in a head or arm being decapitated. These are simple, gory and surprisingly fun ways to end a match. With regards to the actual gameplay and fighting as a whole, it’s never been better. Quick paced, lots of moves and relatively intelligent AI makes this the best fighting Mortal Kombat yet. There are a few environmental interactions that can be used to decimate your opponent (such as throwing an old lady at them), but it’s a shame that we haven’t seen a progression from Injustice’s radiant arenas, allowing fighters to smash through walls or portals into a new fighting zone. There are also no stage fatalities, which was a fun addition dating all the way back to early Mortal Kombat games.

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Outside of story mode and single battles, you can also complete various ‘tower’ modes. The most basic is your classic arcade, in which you select a fighter, beat your way through ten rounds, fight the overpowered final boss, then get a quite badly written story ending. As well as this, other towers include ‘test your luck’ (returning the amusing feature from 2011’s Mortal Kombat), survival and the return of the ‘test your might’ mini-game – though once the latter has been completed once, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do it again. The absence of Injustice’s challenge mode or, more so, 2011’s challenge tower, is very apparent. The challenge tower in Mortal Kombat added hours more gameplay with interesting twists and requirements, forcing you to alter your playstyle to meet them. Unfortunately, nothing like that really exists in Mortal Kombat X.

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There is also an online mode, which I briefly ventured onto. Naturally, I got destroyed, because these people can input kombos quickly and don’t need to look up moves like I do…losers. It’s not really my domain, so I haven’t explored very far. However, one of the first things you do in MKX is choose a faction. Ooh interesting! Not really. Factions earn points over the week, due to player achievements, and at the end the winning faction gets some koins. Maybe this has a bigger impact if you delve into the depths of online, I don’t know. Koins are used to unlock various things in the Krypt, which thankfully has gotten rid of the terrifying jump-scare monster from 2011’s game. You can unlock various alternate costumes, player cards, and concept art – the latter of which is actually really detailed and interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff. You can also unlock new fatalities (every character has two), though I would save your koins and just look these up online.

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The bottom line is that Mortal Kombat X is what you would expect from a Mortal Kombat game, but lacks some of the aspects that made its predecessor so great, and fails to deliver on new additions. It looks nice, but at a price: the system requirements and memory allocated are pretty extensive. If you’re uming and aring about spending the money, I recommend picking up the Komplete Kollection of 2011’s Mortal Kombat to sate your appetite until this comes down in price. OH SPEAKING OF MONEY! So we have entered an age where day 1 DLC, or at least, DLC announced, has become a regular thing. Upon purchasing Mortal Kombat X, you have the option to buy the season pass. This will allow you to download four additional fighters when they are released (at time of writing, I believe one of them is coming out very shortly). This, on top of pre-purchase Goro, just creates a greedy image of the game’s developers, especially considering there were so many bugs on release.  Pre-purchase incentive should be something small and ultimately meaningless, like some alternate costumes or maybe an additional fatality or two. Not a whole character WHO IS INCLUDED IN THE GAME ANYWAY. Speaking of, there are also some characters that you actually fight in the story mode, with full move sets ‘n’ all, who don’t appear as playable fighters. NetherRealm, what is this? Will you be releasing more characters after these initial four? Will you require me to give you another £20? When will it end, NetherRealm? When?!

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DLC Quest – Review

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READING THIS REVIEW REQUIRES THE ‘GAMES ET AL DLC PACK’.

Hehe I’m funny.

We have unfortunately reached a stage in the gaming medium in which paying for additional content is the norm. Where a lot of downloadable content do indeed add hours of new gameplay in new campaigns (Borderlands. Fallout, Bioshock, for example), others are almost an overpriced necessity to play the game to its full potential (such as in Final Fanasty XIII: Lightning Returns). It’s a shame that releasing a season pass has become standard issue for many, many games, with some exploiting DLC even further.

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DLC Quest caught my eye as one of those little indie games that you look at and think “huh, that’s a cool idea”. The premise is simple: you must defeat the evil bad guy. Problem is, the standalone game does little to aid you in doing so; to complete the game, you’re going to need some DLC.

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Very much a commentary on what the industry has sadly become, DLC Quest requires you to use in-game money to buy DLC in order to fulfil your goals. DLC ranges from simply adding jumping or music, to weapons, life, and so on. In this sense, it reminded me of Evoland, as the player continues to progress through an ever evolving game.

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The gameplay itself is extremely straight forward – a 2D platformer that reminded me of old Sega Mega Drive games, particularly with the environment detail and hidden caves, I felt like I was play James Pond. Anyone? James Pond? Ahh nostalgia. Ahem. The map itself is relatively small, and you will find yourself going backwards and forwards to complete objectives, but the game is just long enough at about 2 hours that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also features a lovely little 16-bit soundtrack, including some atmospheric pieces reminiscent of old RPGs!

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Overall, humour is what drives this game forward. As mentioned, it is very much a satire on the current state of DLC and the sheer ridiculousness that surrounds it. DLC Quests parodies various unfinished games (requiring you to purchase DLC to continue) as well nods to well established franchises such as Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Minecraft and Plants VS Zombies. Aside from this, DLC Quest is also full of its own self-referential humour that will keep you smiling as you slave over hunting down coins to buy the overly expensive season pass (that enables you to traverse the ‘Winter Zone’), or the HD pack (tinting everything with a lovely sepia tone).

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The game consists of two short campaigns, each lasting about an hour. It’s a fun way to kill some time if you have it, whilst making you think about how crazy the downloadable content market has become. I’d recommend grabbing it if it’s on sale, but wouldn’t really spend more than a couple o’ quid. There isn’t really a lot else to say about this game, other than if you want a quick, chuckle-worthy pastime, get yourself a copy. Another 69p well spent!

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Saints Row IV – Review

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Long gone are the days when Saints Row was just an apparent Grand Theft Auto clone. You’d get a slap for saying that now. Probably with a dildo…

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I managed to grab m’self a cheap copy of Saints Row IV on Steam with a load of DLC accompanying it. I’d been meaning to play the game for a while, but after the disappointment that was Saints Row the Third I just kept putting it off. The original Saints Row was pretty good, but at the time did just seem like a slightly worse version of Grand Theft Auto  – it was released a few years after San Andreas on ‘the next gen’, but just couldn’t compete IMO. Then Saints Row 2 was released. I loved this game. A massive improvement on the original, and it was competing with the grainy Grand Theft Auto IV, which, whilst a great game in itself, didn’t seem to have a classic GTA humour that Saints Row 2 adopted. It managed to combine the sandbox gang warfare, car stealing gameplay that GTA is known for, whilst providing utterly ridiculous side missions. Not to mention a pretty compelling story that could be completed in an order that you choose. So, to me anyway, Saints Row the Third was a bit o’ disappointment. The game got sillier – which is totally fine – but tried to retain a somewhat captivating story…which it failed to do. The result was a bit of a mismatch: a game that didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It was still fun, but forgettable. Now, Saints Row IV seems to have dropped any notion of being a ‘serious’ game…and is just, well, super fun.

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Saints Row IV is one of the best sandbox games that I have ever played. The reason? Because it’s a true sandbox. Once you get past the opening prologue, the world is pretty much your oyster. The Saints have ascended to world dominance level, and the Boss (you) has been elected President of the United States. After deciding whether you want to cure cancer or end world hunger, aliens attack. The Boss is imprisoned in a virtual reality of Steelport (the city from Saints Row the Third) and must complete various tasks to, ahem, fuck with the system. That’s the premise. And that’s good enough. I haven’t progressed that far in the story, because throughout my six hours of play time I have blown more things up than I can count.

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Pretty much everything is unlocked from the get-go. As with previous Saints games, there is a plethora of side-missions for you to do, ranging from insurance fraud, to blowing stuff up in a helicopter, to races, to blowing stuff up on foot. The big different that Saints Row IV introduces however is that you have super powers. Why? Because you’re in a virtual reality, and you can do anythiiiiiiiiing. The result is that your character is super OP, and no one really stands a chance against you…which is good, because I have ye to figure out where exactly the health bar is. But it’s also hilarious. You unlock abilities such as super jump, super sprint, and elemental powers such as causing massive (you guessed it) explosions, or freezing enemies where they stand. The only downside of this is that due to the super sprint ability – of which an infinite variant for is unlocked quite easily – there is no real need for you to drive cars. I mean, the cars are all mega slow in comparison, so why would you? But there are some awesome looking vehicles roaming Steelport, particularly with some DLC…but there is just no point in driving them really.

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As with any Saints Row game, you have the option to customise your character. The Boss of the Saints is whoever you want to make him or her be. This includes facial alterations, penis size, skin colour, physique, voice (three male, three female, and Nolan North. Because), and a deviant smorgasbord of clothes and costumes. The possibilities are nigh endless. Sexy hooker with massive boobs? Old lady with massive boobs? Blue-skinned-buff alien with massive boobs? Superhero with massive boobs? Whatever your salacious little mind can conjure. I personally began with a large cockney fella to whom I referred to as Big J (privately). Later, after noticing a Nolan North voice option, he became a Tesco’s own version of Deadpool. Soon after that, he had a sex change into a very large, buxom woman wearing nout but dungarees and a cute little bonnet. Most recently, my character is a disgusting old lady who doesn’t seem to understand that she is passed her prime. It’s fun to pretend.

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Saints Row is known for utilising celebrity cameos, such as Burt Reynolds in the Third. IV is no different, only this time Saints veteran Keith David joins the fray. Keith (mind if I call you Keith?) has appeared in Saints Row previously, but as a character. Now he plays himself, as your number 2. So whilst you’re going around sticking penis-swords up mascots bums, you can listen his sweet, soothing, warming voice. Due to some DLC, I am also now able to summon the cast of the fantastic Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’? series as homies. They come will full voice acting, and interact seamlessly with one another. You know, just to add more humour to this game.

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So, all in all, Saints Row IV is a great addition to the franchise. It’s just madness. The addition of superpowers provide constant entertainment, as you can spend your time just running around suplexing innocent people (but they’re only virtual people so you don’t feel guilty, right? In fact, they’re virtual virtual people. Ahaaa!). Whilst I personally wouldn’t spend more than £20 on this game, it’s well worth a gander if you can find a cheaper copy. It’s manic, ridiculous, light-hearted and boobs.

#qt3.14
#qt3.14

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: First Impressions

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Thanks 2K, but where’s all my new shit?

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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! (exclamation mark included) is the latest addition in the family-friendly Borderlands series. AKA Borderlands 1.5, this game is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2. However, I will do my bestest not to include any spoilers for any of the three games in this here review. Holla. At time of writing, I have only played a couple o’ hours with a couple o’ characters with a couple o’ friends (and m’self), but I think that’s sufficient enough to warrant a ‘first impressions’ review, don’t you think?

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First off, The Pre-Sequel!, whilst good, does just kind of feel like a Borderlands 2 DLC pack. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering Borderlands 2 is a brilliant game, but there just isn’t enough new/updated stuff to really advance the series. The bottom line is, The Pre-Sequel does everything right that Borderlands 2 did, but also suffers from the same wrongs. There. You can make your own judgement now. Go, fly on!

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Still here? Thank you. That means a lot. Seriously. Ok, detail. So, what’s new? The Pre-Sequel starts off as the two previous Borderlands games did: choosing your character. This game has you choose one from four classes: Gladiator, Enforcer, Lawbringer and Fragtrap. What’s pretty cool is that all of these characters have appeared in some form in previous instalments: Athena, the Gladiator, made her debut in a DLC pack for Borderlands 1 as an NPC. Wilhelm the Enforcer and Nisha the Lawbringer both appear as enemies in Borderlands 2 (in one way or another), and the Fragtrap class is none other than that lovable robot Claptrap. There is quite a variety in classes – each character has their own unique skill command – though Wilhelm and Athena do seem somewhat similar, moreso than the other two, at least.. Athena uses her shield to absorb/dish our damage, Wilhelm summons two drones to aid him, Nisha can enter a Red Dead Redemption-style quick draw mode, and Claptrap….well, his takes  a little explaining, and is definitely the most fun. Claptrap’s skill analyses the battlefield, taking into account how much ammo, how much health etc. you have, and grants some sort of boon to the party dependent on that – whether it’s having everyone enter a ‘funzerker’ mode (guns, guns, guns), or mimicking Krieg from Borderlands 2’s rampage skill, or giving the whole party rubber rings to…bounce with. Inevitably, more characters will be released as DLC, so I am curious to see where that goes. Additionally, each characters’ melee attack feels more unique than it did in 2 too. For example, Claptrap does a little punch, whereas Nisha uses her whip, which has a longer range but deals a bit less damage. Naturally, your real power comes from one of the bazillion zillion guns that you can pick up throughout your play through. Two new additions to your already well-endowed arsenal are laser and cryogenic weapons. The former, as you may have guessed, fire a barrage of lasers that slowly drain enemies’ health. The latter, as you may have guessed once again (you rascal) freeze your enemies, enabling you to shatter them with a mighty blow!

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The story: As mentioned, The Pre-Sequel is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2, and depicts the rise of Borderlands 2 antagonist, Handsome Jack. As with previous Borderlands games, due to the sheer number of side quests, the main story can often be a bit ambiguous and confusing. Still, all in all it’s very funny, and I’m definitely interested to see where it goes. Borderlands 2 had some brilliant moments, particularly in its fantastic DLC, so I have…hopes for The Pre-Sequel. The game is set on Elpis, Pandora’s moon. As such, zero gravity plays a key role in The Pre-Sequel’s gameplay. You’re equipped with an oxygen pack (oz pack) that allows you to jump great distances, float a bit and even butt-slam down onto enemies below – which is pretty cool, because you can send them floating off into the infinity of space Malcolm Reynolds style. Watch out, ‘doe! If you use too much oxygen you WILL DIE. Unless you’re Claptrap. Because he don’t need no oxygen. This is a fun little addition that makes exploration and combat feel that teency bit fresher than it did in Borderlands 2.

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As for newness, that’s about it really. Everything else – graphics and general gameplay etc.– are pretty much the same as they were in Borderlands 2. I mean, it all works brilliantly, and obviously the game features a fresh soundtrack and voice acting – but overall the game doesn’t really feel like an upgrade…just more of the same. The game still wonderfully blends RPG elements into the FPS genre, and for the most part, the script is pretty hilarious. I would say ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’, which, you know, they haven’t…but they also haven’t fixed what is broken. There are a handful of glitches that I have already encountered, rendering a quest un-completeable. These are generally solved by exiting the map and re-entering, but in my fast paced adult life, I don’t have time for that! Also, the menu is still just as clunky as it was in 2. In fact, it’s exactly the same. Again, not game-breaking, just a small nuisance that I would have hoped they may have fixed. Lastly, the enemies feel quite repetitive. You seem to be fighting the same ones over and over again, with no real variety. Elpis is ok to explore, but has nothing on the design of Pandora in previous installments.

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Overall, the game just feels like a big ol’, slightly unpolished DLC for Borderlands 2. It’s still fun, especially with friends, but Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! unfortunately lacks the innovation and originality to really make it stand out. I’ve clocked 100 hours on Borderlands 2…something that I just don’t see happening with The Pre-Sequel, sadly. If you’re new to the series, go and pick up Borderlands 2. If you really like it, give this a go, but spend your time over there first. I’ll be looking forward to the inevitable Borderlands 3 and TellTale Game’s Tales from the Borderlands…

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor review

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This review was originally supposed to be a ‘first impressions’, but against my better nature I have become a bit addicted to this game…so here is a full review!

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an amalgamation of Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham and, of course, the Lord of the Rings universe. Now, I love all of these series, so was super hyped for this game. My verdict after playing it for a good ten hours completing it? Ehhh….very good, but not amazing.

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Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed my time playing Shadow of Mordor, and it’s mighty addictive, but there are many things that this game promised on, or should incorporate, that it just doesn’t.

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Let’s start with the plot. The game is set somewhat ambiguously between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. However, it is unclear whether the events of Shadow of Mordor are canon or not, for a handful or reasons, generally to be with lore laws and time frames. This is just Tolkien nerd stuff, and isn’t really important, but when you kind of know the outcome (the events of Lord of the Rings) then you probably won’t get that excited as to what the outcome of the story is.  Whilst the game does do a great job of making you feel like you’re in Middle-Earth, there are a few aspects that I imagine would make young J.R.R turn in his grave and huff – a few very un-Tolkien-y aspects. But then, this is the man who one day decided that he had been spelling ‘orc’ wrong and decided to stick a ‘k’ at the end instead. Truly a genius, was he. Anyway, on to the plot. Protagonist Talion – a ranger stationed on the Black Gate – and his family are brutally murdered when Sauron’s (who is in the midst of leaving rehab) forces attack. However, something strange happens to Talion, and he awakens to find himself only mostly dead. He is revived by an enigmatic elf-wraith who seems to only speak in riddles, metaphors, proverbs and LotR quotes. The overall story itself is ok, but nothing amazing. It’s almost told in two parts – the present day exploits of Talion – who I was extremely apathetic towads – and uncovering the history and true identity of the Wraith. The latter is certainly most interesting, as it also reveals more on the origins of the One Ring…plus, you get the help of a certain skinny, balding ex-hobbit. Talion’s present day shenanigans aren’t particularly exciting and follow quite a basic, conventional structure, complete with a forced semi-love interest because she is the only other female in the game under 50. The final couple of missions are quite good, but are let down by easy boss fights and an overall disappointing ending that almost screams “lol wait for  DLC”.  Still, there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied whilst playing through Shadow of Mordor, so the disappointing story isn’t that much of a hindrance.

The original "Odd Couple".
The original “Odd Couple”.

The game essentially has you playing as two characters – Talion and the Wraith. Talion can utilise the standard ranger skills of swinging a sword, whilst the Wraith enables him to perform wicked cool combos, shoot a ghostly bow, jump and climb almost Assassin’s Creed style, scare enemies, gaze into their minds and even control them later on in the game. Killing enemies and completing tasks grants experience which in turn unlocks more combos and moves. The combat system is pretty much Batman: Arkham, but with swords and uruks (which is another word for the type of orcs you encounter) instead of batarangs and fists, so if you’re familiar with that then you know what I’m talking about: keep mashing the attack button to build up a combo, occasionally countering when the indicator appears above enemy heads, or dodging, or stunning to unleash a bigger combo with the occasional instant takedown thrown in…which is awesomely satisfying. I don’t really think I need to explain it any more. It is literally Batman: Arkham. This isn’t a criticism, as the combat in the Arkham games flows very nicely and is rather enjoyable, and it has translated over to Shadow of Mordor very well. There are a few issues with Talion attacking a completely different enemy than I wanted him to, but it’s not that big a deal. Unlocks include finishers, throwing knives and bow attacks that aim to keep combat fresh and entertaining and allow you to build up super cool combos. Combat is a lot of fun. If you don’t want to get up close and personal, Shadow of Mordor also includes a pretty good stealth system too. Using his dagger, Talion can sneak up and assassinate unaware enemies, before retreating back to the shadows or a conveniently placed bush. The bow also introduces a new pace of combat, allowing you to snipe enemies from a far and, later on in the game, blink towards and execute them, which has become my favourite thing. The combat itself isn’t particularly tricky – even bosses don’t pose much of a challenge, sadly – unless you suddenly get ambushed by about 50-odd orcs…which tends to happen quite a lot. But even then, if you have your wits about you and know how the flow of combat works, you can time counters and dodges so that you don’t get hit at all. But even if you do, dying is kind of fun so it’s not a big loss.

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Outside of combat, AI is…pretty stupid. Uruks seem to have a peripheral vision of about 100˚, so you can stealth kill one fella, and the guy next to him won’t notice. To my knowledge, there is no option to crank up the difficulty, which is a shame – though removing certain features from the HUD will make it harder to see when to counter in combat, I guess. But it doesn’t take long in the game before you’re able to take down bosses in about 5 hits or so.

241930_screenshots_2014-10-03_00001Exploring Mordor, you’ll be running around Mordor like a rampant mûmak in a mithril shop. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, you can climb up buildings and parkour across rooftops to drop down on oblivious orcs. In fact, this whole element seems to have been lifted from Assassin’s Creed completely, right down to the way Talion moves or leaps off a building. Like, it looks literally the same. Due to the clunky controls however (also maybe lifted from Assassin’s Creed, but a bit worse) you’ll oft find yourself jumping the wrong way, or plummeting to the ground when you meant to grab a ledge. You’ll get used to the controls eventually, but my god it feels like Talion ways as much as…a rampant mûmak in a mithril shop.

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Despite the core gameplay elements seemingly being lifted from two other franchises, Middle-Earth: Batman’s Creed is still a very fun game to play. I mean, in all fairness, it’s taken two of the best characteristics from the games that it has lifted from…so that’s good, isn’t it? It all connects together beautifully. One thing that makes Shadow of Mordor unique, however, is the Nemesis System, which you have probably heard people fanyboying about. Throughout the story, Talion must hunt down various uruk captains and war chiefs. These are essentially bosses that lead Sauron’s armies. Talion can encounter these commanders throughout the world – which is always quite exciting – and those of whom who have had run ins with him before will remember him – whether they managed to kill you, or if they fled. For example, if you fought Mr Orc before, and you burnt him and he ran, he might appear later on with a burn down his face and say “you went and burnt me an’ now I’m goin’ to kill you!”…or something slightly more creative. It’s a great way to make the world feel alive – and it is extremely satisfying when you hunt down an uruk that killed you previously and slice his head off. During the course of the game, various uruks will earn promotions, rising up the ranks of Sauron’s forces, and ultimately becoming a lot stronger. They do this by winning fights amongst themselves, recruiting new members or even just having a nice little feast. And, of course, if they kill you. Speaking of, death matters in Shadow of Mordor. Due to Talion’s wraith-like nature, death doesn’t really feel like you have failed. Aside from having to listen to the same dialogue flow whenever you respawn (which seems to reset every time you exit the game), and obviously being withdrawn from whatever you were doing at the time of death, the game progresses as normal, only this time orcs will be like “heeey…I killed you!” One thing I would like to see, though, is death taking its toll on Talion – maybe his clothes could become more damaged, or have scars appear on his body? Something to perhaps symbolise that he’s not really a-ok. Another thing that would have added would be the ability to have 1 v 1 fights with uruk captains, whilst their supporters looked on. It would make the fights seem a lot more epic and tense, as opposed to you having to go off to deal with another pesky orc every couple of hits on a boss.

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As you unlock more abilities, you can dispatch uruk commanders in a number of different ways, such as sending in one of their minions to do it for. It’s a creative way to enact revenge on those that wronged you, and I hope similar schemes like the Nemesis System can continue to develop and exist in further games.

Felt sorry for this guy. He didn't seem to die. I ended up burning most of his face us, before finally putting him to rest.
Felt sorry for this guy. He didn’t seem to die. I ended up burning most of his face us, before finally putting him to rest. #sorrynotsorry

Shadow of Mordor also offers a balrog full of collectibles and side missions to complete whilst you’re avoiding the main story. Artifacts can be found that recall certain memories (somehow) or Middle-Earth’s occupants, revealing histories of the land and its people. There are also sword, bow, dagger, survival and hunting challenges that unlock experience and achievements…but that’s about it; there seems to be no real in game reward, which is a shame. Some side missions include helping a band of soliders known as the Outcasts (which, whenever I see, just reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame song), but these missions are all pretty much the same and tire very quickly. They have, however, also thrown in a nice little sense of community in that if someone on your friends list is killed by an orc captain, you can avenge them in a special ‘vendetta’ mission. Aside from this, you can also spend all day hunting down various uruks to instil the wrath of Man upon them. The story will probably take you around eleven hours or so to finish, but if you’re a completions and enjoy the side quests, then I reckon you could double that.

241930_screenshots_2014-09-30_00005All in all, I am enjoying my time playing Shordor, but it just doesn’t live up to the hype. I’m not sure if I am missing something, as most reviewers seem to be giving it 9 or 9.5/10. I give it a solid….8. Yeah. It’s a good game, but not without its faults. At the moment, I’m not fussed about buying the season pass (god that’s another can of worms. Bloody season passes). I mean, I don’t mind paying an extra £20 or so if I know the DLC is going to be worth it, or if the game has already provided me with 80+ hours of entertainment like Borderlands…but for this? I’m not sure. I will wait and see what I think of the DLC. I realise I haven’t spoken about the graphics or sound! Goodness me, I’m so sorry. Well, aesthetically this game looks great, especially during the cutscenes, but there isn’t much variety in environment – it’s all Mordor before Sauron spilt his load on it, which looks pretty much the same anyway, just less…ashen. The map also isn’t that big – you start off in one area and eventually progress to a second, but that’s it. Considering the size of the game, these are relativity small. The voices are well acted, however Troy Baker’s Talion sounds like a generic LotR character. If someone said to you “talk in a Lord of the Rings voice”, it would be that voice. Liam O’Brien doing a gosh darn fantastic Andy Serkis impression, and Alastair Duncan portrays a wonderfully slightly dickish elf in the Wraith, which, to be honest, all elves are. Dickish, that is; not wraiths. There is also a database chock-full of lore and character information that will make the most diehard Tolkien fan squee with joy! There are a handful of clipping issues and glitches (such as floating orcs) that I encountered, but nothing game breaking.

So go on, get out of here you scamp. Go and play some Shadow of Mordor. Fly, you fools!

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Late review – Dishonoured

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Oh well honour for all,
Of the big and the small.
Well, the taller they stand
Well, the harder they fall.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-05_00002It really says something for this game that I bought it release day when it originally came out in October 2012 (I got a cool pack of playing and tarot cards as a pre-order incentive), played through it twice, then bought it again recently on Steam…and have since played through it two more times.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-05_00003Dishonoured (or Dishonored, if you’re ‘merican) was published by Bethesda – the studio that has given us masterpieces such as the Fallout games and the Elder Scrolls series (no, not you, Elder Scrolls Online) ­ – and developed by the small French company Arkane Studios. It’s quite hard to define into one genre, so I guess I would have to go with stealth-action-steampunk-dystopian-adventure, if I’m being specific. Oh, and it’s first-person.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-05_00008Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, capital of the Empire of Isles, Dishonoured has you take the role of silent protagonist Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress. After returning from an expedition to try and find a solution to the ever growing plague that inflicts the city, Corvo is framed for the Empress’ murder. The game has Corvo seek revenge against those that framed him, whilst tracking down and rescuing the Empress’ daughter and heir, Emily. However, one thing that makes Dishonoured stand out as a truly great game, with mucho replay value, is the way in which this revenge is executed. Stay tuned for more.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-05_00017Visually, Dishonoured is like a water painting. With vivid colours (in the lighter areas, at least) and stroke like textures, Dishonoured isn’t going to win any awards for realistic graphics, but it’s very pretty and unique in its own way. Character proportions vary depending on the individual character’s class and profession – for example, city watch guards have big heads, shoulders and hands on a slightly smaller than average body. This experimental feature sounds like on paper it would break the immersion and just look downright silly, but it fits perfectly with the art style. Facially, everyone looks a bit like they’re chewing corn or something, but, again, it works. The city of Dunwall is apparently inspired by London and Edinburgh, which is very obvious in the Victorian-esque architecture. The steampunk (or rather oilpunk) influence allows the game to mess around with technology trees, incorporating gunpowder pistols and electrified walls. Dunwall is a city built around large bodies of water, and that is reflected in the city’s design. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into creating this world not just for aesthetic purposes, but also gameplay.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-06_00001Near the beginning of the game, Corvo is greeted by an enigmatic figure known as the Outsider, who, to me, looks a lot like a young Joaquin Phoenix. He bestows Corvo with some supernatural abilities, adding a fantasy and sci-fi element to this game. These, along with various different weapons, allow you to traverse and complete each mission in your own unique way. The default ability, Blink, allows you to quickly teleport from one area to another. This, combined with jumping and the well-designed environment, enables you to climb high buildings or scurry across Dunwall’s rooftops in a wicked cool parkour manner. Each mission is set in a self-contained map, with access to various areas. Despite being restricted to only certain areas, each map is well designed and large enough that you have numerous routes to reach your target. The way the gameplay is designed feels a great amount like the Bioshock games, notably the way weapons and powers are used, with a bit of Fallout and Mirror’s Edge thrown in for good measure. It’s an interesting combination that provides the player with some truly unique play styles. I can’t really think of any other game that plays quite as Dishonoured does.

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Joaquin?

There are nine missions in total, which may not sound like a lot, but each offers a handful of side quests that generally reveal more information about this games in-depth lore. At the end of each mission, you are presented with a stats screen that shows how many people (if any) you killed, if you were spotted, whether you looted any safes, and if you collected any of the games collectables such as runes or bone charms – the former of which allows you to upgrade your powers, with the latter granting Corvo various attributes such as quicker swimming or mana regeneration. You’re also told whether you completed the level on ‘high’ or ‘low chaos’. The chaos factor is a hidden stat that determines how the next levels will pan out, and ultimately which ending you will get. For example, playing through the game without killing anyone (which is an enjoyable challenge – even better if you combine it with not ever being seen) grants a slightly more positive ending, whereas playing in high chaos (KILL EVERYTHING!!!) is ultimately a lot darker. Killing more people also results in more bodies which results in more plague rats which results in more infected which results in more guards which results in the city decaying at a more rapid pace. This isn’t just a case of ‘going left instead of right causes a slight change here but that’s it’ – you can actually see and hear how your actions have affected the city. Each target that you must assassinate comes with various creative ways that you can dispatch them, including a non-lethal method. For example, one target is the head of a cult, and the non-lethal method to be rid of him is to brand him with the “heretic’s brand”, essentially excommunicating him.  These variables pepper Dishonoured with replay value like sprinkles on a finely iced lemon drizzle cake.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-05_00011Dishonoured features an all-star cast, with big names such as Michael Madsen, Susan Sarandon, Lena Headey and Chloë Grace Moretz providing their voices to the game. A small gripe I have with the game is that in this British inspired environment, the characters all have American accents. Whilst the voice actors all do a brilliant job, I feel that the game would be just that tiny bit more immersive if they had incorporated English accents. Nevertheless, I have no complaints about the quality of voice work. Madsen especially stands out in two of the three DLC packs as the assassin Daud. Sound plays an important part in Dishonoured, both diegetic and non-diegetic (yeah, I did AS Media at college). Throughout the game, you can hear updates on how the city is faring via loudspeakers across the streets. Sound also, with many stealth games, factors into whether or not enemies spot you. It also acts as an alert if they do see you, with a jarring piano sound telling you to get the fuzz back into cover. The overall soundtrack, composed by Daniel Licht (notable for the Silent Hill and television series Dexter soundtracks), creates an uneasy environment designed to keep the player alert and unnerved.

205100_screenshots_2014-09-05_00004There are very few negative things I have to say about Dishonoured. On occasion the AI can be a bit stupid and inconsistent, but that’s it really. I recommend playing through first as stealthily as possible, then again cranking up the difficulty and getting mad kills, as the combat is pretty fun and the gore extremely satisfying…. The characters are well developed and interesting, and cleverly often make you feel remorse for killing them (if it comes to that). Levels are long, with oodles of collectables and side quests to keep you entertained. The world is rich and well developed, and it’s worth reading and listening to the various notes, books and audio logs scattered around the levels to learn more of this rich lore. The DLC is also well worth getting – there are three instalments: one that features several interesting challenge maps, and two dictating a spin-off story featuring the aforementioned assassin Daud, as he seeks redemption after murdering the Empress. With a world so full of life and potential, I really hope that this rumoured sequel comes to fruition. Dishonoured seems to be one of those games that is loved by everyone who plays it, but isn’t played by nearly enough people! Like Final Fantasy IX. Go play that too. But later. Do this first.

...my bad.
…my bad.

Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode 2 – Review

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A fantastic end (?) to an outstanding series.

This review will not contain any spoilers for Burial at Sea Episode 2, I promise. It may contain teeny weeny slight spoilers for Episode 1, Infinite and Bioshock 1 and 2. If you haven’t played these games then oh my god go and play them now. I’ll be waiting here.

Well goodness me and my giddy aunt. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that if you’re uming and aring (erring?) about this, bloody play it. It’s quite pricey at £11.99, the same as Episode 1, but it’s worth it for the story. Episode 2 gives players approximately 5 – 6 hours of new story, and takes place immediately after the events of Episode 1. As opposed to playing as Booker as you do in Infinite and Episode 1, Episode 2 puts you, for

This was my face throughout playing.
This was my face throughout playing.

the first time, in Elizabeth’s feminine shoes.

The gameplay is more or less what you would expect from a Bioshock game – you have a small armada of weapons (more than two, which is nice) and access to vigors/plasmids, which you must use to overcome enemies large and small. You can also use the Air-Grabber (Rapture’s counterpart of the Sky-Hook) for melee weapons, although as Elizabeth is dainty and squishy as plums, this only briefly stuns enemies and deals no damage. Due to her squishy nature, playing as Elizabeth feels completely different from Booker, Jack and especially Big Daddy Delta. You can’t just run in gung-ho with weapons blazing – if you do, you will end up sleeping with the fishes. Heh. Because it’s underwater. No, instead, Episode 2 advises you to take a more stealthy approach. Whilst this is quite a nice change of pace, the stealth mechanics are definitely the worst aspect of this wonderful DLC. Overall, it feels like a bad Dishonoured clone. Dishonoured did stealth right, so it’s no surprise that a game will try and mimic it, but unfortunately, Bioshock hasn’t done this too well. The main problem is the environment – it just doesn’t feel like it was bit for stealth. Whilst arguably this creates more of a challenge, it’s just frustrating. It’s quite hard, at times, to gage where enemies are, even with the help of the new “Peeping Tom” plasmid. There is also no real quick way to move around the rooms, apart from the occasional vent or hanging hook. But even that takes quite a while. There is also ‘cover’ mechanic – you just have to rely on crouching behind a wall and assuming that no one can see you. One new addition that does work quite well is how different terrains change the volume of your footsteps. But eventually this becomes less of a tactical, strategic decision and more of a “I shouldn’t walk on all that broken glass over there” scenario; you just learn to avoid it. I guess if they added too many new mechanics then this wouldn’t feel like a Bioshock game, but eventually I just grew bored of the combat. But then, we don’t play Bioshock for the combat, do we?

No, we play it for the story and the environment! I promised that this would be spoiler free, so I won’t delve too deeply into it, but I will just say that it rounds the series off stupendously. I was on the edge of my seat, begging for more. As Episode 2 takes place directly after Episode 1, the date is 31st December 1958, which, as every Bioshock fan knows, is the day that Rapture fell. As a result, players get to witness Rapture pre-decline, albeit not as much as in Episode 1. Even still, the story, along with the numerous audio logs you find along the way, sheds new light on Rapture, unveiling still hidden secrets, and giving you a deeper insight into certain significant figures. Indeed, if you thought that Burial At Sea was just Elizabeth and Booker gallivanting around in an alternate reality Rapture, by Jove are you in for a treat!

 

It’s hard to say more without giving too much away. But I will summarise with this: the Bioshock series is proof that games are an art form. Burial At Sea brings the incredibly intelligent and compelling story to an brilliant close, and answers a lot of unanswered questions, whilst opening up more (gosh darn it…). Whilst Irrational Games has, very sadly, recently gone under, I can only hope that the Bioshock franchise isn’t dead. I don’t know when or how we will see another game, but I, for one, cannot wait.