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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
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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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The Walking Dead (game) – Seasons 1 and 2 review

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Please excuse me whilst I….wipe away these tears and….DAMN IT WHY COULDN’T I SAVE EVERYONE?!

DISCLAIMER – All these images I use in this review I took from various Google searches as I was SO ENGROSSED with the story that I forgot to take any…

TWD-game-the-walking-dead-game-telltale-gamesTelltale Games’ The Walking Dead takes inspiration from Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name, the same which The Walking Dead TV series is loosely based on. You may recall, if you read my blog often (pft, of course you do) that Telltale games has popped up before in my The Wolf Among Us Review. Well, The Walking Dead follows the same basic structure – it’s essentially an interactive story, where your actions and choices affect how the game pans out. As with The Wolf Among Us, the overarching story is always the same; your decisions just determine how you get there. This game is an emotional rollercoaster that had me close to tears on several occasions. It’s won over 90 Game of the Year awards, and here’s why.

zmobie-leeThis is a review for both Season 1 and Season 2 of The Walking Dead games. Lots of my comments will be generalised and apply to both – they are essentially one big game – but I will be specific too. Both games are episodic. Season 1 was released in five episodes between April and November 2012, with one DLC episode, 400 Days, following in July 2013. Season 2, also comprising of five episodes, was released between December 2013 and August 2014, so it’s still pretty hot off the press. The 400 Days DLC bridges the gap between Season 1 and 2.

twd_203_hoardThe driving point behind The Walking Dead games is the incredible character development. Whilst the setting is indeed a zombie apocalypse, the game focuses more on characterisation and action, as opposed to action – to quote Robert Kirkman. That isn’t to say that zombies don’t play a pivotal role in the game – because they do – but the focus is really on how people band together and survive in times of such hardship, not just go gung-ho shooty crazy a la Left 4 Dead.

Walking_dead_telltale_game_dialog_screenshotSeason 1 focuses around protagonist Lee, a convicted murderer, who is caught up in the outbreak on his way to prison. After a narrow escape, he encounters eight year old Clementine, who serves as the deuteragonist (what a great word!) throughout the game. Thus, their story to survive begins, meeting various colourful characters along the way…many of whom’s fate is down to the choices that you make…so good luck with that. Each character is realistically flawed, and when the inevitable dissent among the group begins, you must really consider hard (in the short time that you have to decide) everyone’s arguments. Do you think of the group’s best interest? Or side with a favourite character whatever their decision? Or play the middle-man? There are a plethora of decisions that left me filled with regret and angst…resulting in various outcomes, adding that key word of “replay value” to the game. Like, so much. The characters are so well developed that you really do begin to empathise, sympathise and care for them. Which makes watching their struggle even more difficult. But overall it’s Clem and Lee’s relationship that really gets ya. It’s beautiful. It could be argued that these games are a commentary on how quickly children seem to grow up nowadays, and asks whether this is a good or bad thing? After all, we live in a pretty messed up world – should our children be protected in a bubble, or face the harsh realities? These are questions that characters are constantly battling with, and that you, as Lee, must face. Outside of dialogue, you’ll be faced with various quick time events and small explorable areas with several items that you can interact with. The QTEs are all pretty enjoyable and rarely feel stale, although some failures result in immediate death and game over whereas others effect the continuing story. The explorable areas are aight, but sometimes (in Season 1 more than 2) I found myself unsure of what exactly I was supposed to be doing…leading me to wander around aimlessly for a lot longer than I maybe should have.  All of your actions have an impact, and if you so choose to, you can load up a Season 1 save file in Season 2 to see how your decisions affect the second season. Mass Effect did a similar thing in that you could load up your older character to essentially continue the story as a whole. It just makes the whole game a lot more immersive and connected…and might make you think twice about rash decisions. The last episode of Season 2 can end in one of six heart-string-pulling ways, but definitely leaves you wanting more. Thank God that Telltale have confirmed that a Season 3 is in the works…! In fact, as a result of that, I’m going to go back and get a different ending….

2378979-the_walking_dead_game_episode_2_achievements_screenshotAs mentioned, 400 Days bridges the gap between Season 1 and Season 2. You briefly play as six different characters, living parts of their lives during the apocalypse. As you may have guessed, your actions in this DLC also have a number of effects on how Season 2 plays out – from determining which characters you may meet, you minute details such as whether you encounter a certain body. I found, however, that I ended up disliking many of the 400 Days characters I played as when (if) I encountered them in Season 2. Especially Tavia. Fucking Tavia.

Visually, The Walking Dead utilises that same animated-esque style that various other Telltale games use, like The Wolf Among Us. Season 2’s graphics are that slight bit better, and the interface is more developed, but there isn’t that much difference. Character models are well animated for the most part, but sometimes can look a bit like they have been filmed using stop-motion, but I suppose that’s all part of the style. There are some issues with clipping that I noticed, or a character suddenly jumping forward in a lagtastic kind of way, but none of these are game breaking and, surprisingly, don’t break the immersion. And there is a lot of immersion. Oh, the immersion!

I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into The Walking Dead, but that’s largely because I was constantly comparing it to The Wolf Among Us, which, aside from its appearance and gameplay style, is very different. It’s like comparing something like Fallout to Call of Duty…although I know which one I would pick… I also, for whatever reason, went into The Walking Dead thinking that it was a comedy. It is not. Jesus this game knows how to make a man (nearly) cry. After I completed Season 1 I felt addicted and needed to go on and start Season 2…but I had to take a break. I just couldn’t handle it! If you’re into games with good story telling, then this is for you. I wouldn’t exactly class it as a horror game, despite its subject. There are a few jumpy, tense moments, but I’d put it more down as a thriller. There’s a Michael Jackson joke in their somewhere.

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Both The Walking Dead Season 1 and 2 are currently on Steam for £18.99 a pop, which may seem a lot, with each season lasting about 10 hours each, but that’s kind of like buying a box set for a series, with 5 two hour episodes or ‘summit. Even still, I think that it’s well worth the money, partially for that good ol’ replay value. The games also allow you to go back and replay specific chapters of episodes, so if you wanted to see how making a different decision affects the story, you can! The Walking Dead is, or will be, available on pretty much every gaming platform including Android, iOS, PS3/4, Xbone, 360, PC and Vita. So go. Go! GO NOW! RUN! GO!!!the-walking-dead-the-game-20120408020037548_640w

Dust: An Elysian Tail review

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Back in the days of early generation consoles, the 2D platformer was the pinnacle of technology and the staple design for many iconic games – think Sonic, Golden Axe, Earthworm Jim! With today’s modern graphics and technological developments, the humble 2D platformer is more often than not swept under the rug like an easy to conceal bag of incriminating evidence, save for prevalent series such as Mario. Dust: An Elysian Tail (yes, ‘tail’, not ‘tale’) is a game that revamps the 2D platformer dynamic and thrusts it salaciously into the modern day. It falls under the umbrellaing category of Metroidvania (or Castleroid) – action/adventure with RPG elements. This is a game done right.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-11_00009When I first booted up Dust on the ol’ PC, I thought that I’d wandered into some sort of My Little Pony/furry fan’s wet dream. This was largely due to all of the characters being anthropomorphic animals, drawn in an anime fashion. Fortunately, as I began to play, my initial worries were quickly cast aside like yesterday’s ham.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-12_00002Playing Dust feels a bit like you’re watching an anime film. The cutscenes look remarkably like a 90s Studio Ghibli film, which is a compliment when (aside from the voice acting, soundtrack and a bit of the writing), Dust was developed by ONE PERSON. According to various online sources (Wikipedia), Dust’s lone developer, Dean Dodrill, is a self-taught illustrator and animator. It’s outstanding, then, to think that this one person not only developed this entire game, but also drew it. Anime is one of those genres that retains a certain magic when it’s hand drawn, and Dust definitely brings this magic to life. Both the character models and settings are truly beautiful and well imagined. The world feels alive, buzzing, and full of fleshed out characters.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-12_00001Indeed, one of the game’s best features is its design. Character costumes are pretty incredible. The protagonist – the eponymous Dust – wears an iconic sedge hat, instantly setting him apart from other characters, who tend to wear more traditional casual Korean gear. He also holds his sword with his backhand, so you know he’s cool. Each character feels unique, with the exception of some enemies – but even they are palette swapped to add a bit of variety. The backdrops across the game, along with the well-designed levels, also follow this anime-esque model, and as a result create the rich, varied explorable world that Dust: An Elysian Tail is set in.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-13_00001The game opens with Dust awakening one day in a pretty little grove, lost and confused. He is quickly greeted by in-game companion Fidget (a kind of cat/bat/weasel thing, who, although very annoying, is awfully endearing…like a Tara Strong character) and a legendary talking sword, Ahrah. Together, they must thwart the malicious General Gaius, who is committing mass genocide across the country, and find out who Dust really is. The story is quite compelling, though not the game’s strongest point. It’s interesting, but predictable, and quite typically anime. Again, it reminded me of a Studio Ghibli film – mixing that wondrous feeling of magic and humour with a slightly darker, mature undertone. It touches on subjects such as war, morality and redemption, but it won’t leave you wanting to discuss the plot with your fellow comrades around the watercooler at work on Monday.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-11_00007As mentioned, the level design is another of the game’s highlights. Each explorable area is divided into several ‘rooms’, for lack of a better word. These rooms fit together like a jigsaw, clearly indicating which side access points are on. This means that you won’t just be travelling right all the time, as with games of yore, but also up, down and left. This, along with the use of height levels, secret areas and explodable walls, adds great variety to each level – nothing feels like it has been copy and pasted.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-14_00001Throughout the game you can also collect keys to unlock chests, which contain money and food. Food is used for healz, and ranges from a modest lasagne, to a slice of birthday cake, and even some Korean inspired dishes. Keys also unlock cages that contain a variety of ‘friends’. Purely Easter eggs, these ‘friends’ are characters from other indie game such as Super Meat Boy or Bastion. You can go and chill with them in the Sanctuary. Which is a nice way to take a break from killing things.

On the way to rescuing a certain 'friend'.
On the way to rescuing a certain ‘friend’.

Dust’s combat utilises both hack ‘n’ slash and RPG elements. Fidget can use her magic to help inhibit  enemies, whilst Dust attacks with the standard two button combat controls, which you can mix up to perform a handful of combos. There are only like….three, but chaining multiple attacks together, along with adding Fidget’s magic to the mix, can create a lovely dance of destruction. The flow of combat has been quite masterfully tailored, with fluid battle animations and responsive controls that you can jump, dart and dodge your way around the battlefield seamlessly. The RPG elements come into play in the form of experience, which can be used to buff Dust up and increase the damage that Fidget deals. The levelling scale is a little off, however. When you first enter an area, combat is…no exactly difficult, but slightly challenging – you have to keep on your toesies. But once you level up a couple o’ times, you obliterate anything in your path. This includes bosses. There are only four boss fights, with a handful of mini-bosses, but none really pose a threat. The last boss, who requires you to fight him four times, is the most challenging, but even then, on normal difficulty, he wasn’t a problem at all. I only died a couple of times throughout the game, and that was largely down to my own hubris when fighting a bazillion enemies at once. I have no idea what the fighting is like on a higher difficulty, but with levelling up and the various augments that you can equip to up your attack, it’s all pretty easy. Speaking of, I was disappointed that the game doesn’t feature a New Game Plus option once you complete it. Seems like it would be a good way to offer some replay value to a game that has none. Also, if you try and exit an area whilst you’re still in a fight, a little notification pops up which sounds an awful lot like the old Windows Messenger sound. That’s pretty irrelevant to this review, but I thought I should mention it. Sorry.

236090_screenshots_2014-09-11_00008TO CONCLUDE. Dust: An Elysian Tail is a good game. Not amazing, but definitely worth playing if you can cough up the dollar. I completed the game with 111% out of a possible 117% (I couldn’t be bothered to do the challenge maps) in about 8 hours or so, so add on a couple of hours for level grinding and completing the previously mentioned challenge maps, you’re looking at a lifespan of about 10 hours (IGN reckons 20 wut). It’s beautifully designed, and amazing when you think that the majority of it is one person’s work. The voice acting is pretty swish too, and you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re watching an anime film (fun fact, the game actually started off as a film called Elysian Tail). There are also plans for a PS4 version to come out soon, which is gonna look sweeeet. So yeah. If you like fun, quirky, 2D hack ‘n’ slashes, then definitely go and check out Dust. If not, well, Shadows of Mordor is out soon so…

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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.

Evoland review

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Evoland is currently on sale on Steam for another 24 hours or so, so I thought this would be a perfect time to write a quick review for this historical adventure. This is truly an innovative game that will appeal to anyone from RPG lovers, to games history buffs, to even (and I loathe using this term) ‘casual gamers’. I feel dirty.

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You start out in a silent black and white pixelated world, in which your only option is to move right. As you progress, you begin to unlock more and more game elements that we generally take for granted, such as the ability to move in any direction, or save points (which are nowadays quite rarely used). Evoland starts out as an adventure through video game history. The graphics update from 2D to 3D, the sound from 8 to 16-bit to symphonic, the textures from standard to high definition. It’s very interesting to see this progression right in front of your eyes as you progress through the game. You almost feel like you’re going from playing a NES game to a Playstation 2 game. It’s an original concept, and one that makes Evoland stand out from the rest of the crowd.

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00005Near the beginning of the game, you unlock the story. You’re playing as Clink, an obvious hybrid of The Legend of Zelda’s Link and Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud. The world is about to be plunged into darkness blah blah blah cliché fantasy plot blah blah. You’re eventually joined by a healer named Kaeris (no prizes for guessing what happens to her in the story, amirite?) It’s safe to say that whilst this game is honouring older RPGs, it’s also parodying them. The developers, Shiro Games, have definitely done their research, and often play on the ridiculous, now outdated attributes that older games of this genre used to portray, such as bonsai jungles, impassable rocks, or NPCs that run around in an endless circle. It features Easter eggs referencing games such as the aforementioned Zelda series, Final Fantasy VI and VIII, Dragon Quest and as such is truly a love letter to these games of yore. It even features a fella called Cid.

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00004As the game evolves, its play style also changes. At some points you will find yourself faced with Final Fantasy style turn based combat, complete with random encounters. Certain forests and dungeons have you playing in a style reminiscent of both older and newer Zelda games, and one dungeon even features some Diablo-esque gameplay, with useless loot to equip ‘n’all.

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00003As a nice little bonus, the game features a card game called Double Twin, an obvious allusion to Final Fantasy VIII’s own Triple Triad minigame. It plays very similar to both that and Triple Triad’s spiritual successor, Tetra Master from Final Fantasy IX. Along with Super Mario style stars spread throughout the world, this adds a collectable element to the game. Despite this, apart from earning an achievement, I saw no real reason to be hunting down stars, and only found a handful of people who played Double Twin, despite there being over 20 cards to collect.

2013-04-06_00015Sadly, Evoland’s innovativeness is also its downfall. About two thirds of the way through the game, you stop unlocking the ‘evolution’, and as such the game just becomes a basic PS2-era RPG. This is fine, but seeing as the story is extremely clichéd, and the references begin to wane, I found myself getting a tad bored and just wanting to complete it. It was still enjoyable, but nowhere near as much as it had been a few hours before at the beginning of the game. It kind of got to the point where it was reminding me of old Zelda or Final Fantasy that all I really wanted to do was just go and play them instead…

233470_screenshots_2014-07-03_00001At time of writing, Evoland is a mere £1.74 on Steam, reduced from £6.99.  It’s definitely an enjoyable, accessible experience, with tons of throwbacks and nostalgia for older RPGs, but once that’s all said and done it kind of just becomes an average game in itself with no real replay value aside from just experiencing it again. Towards the end it gets a bit meh, and could easily be classed as a bad Final Fantasy or Zelda clone, but luckily the game is just long enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome; it stays for one more cup of tea than it should have done, but you didn’t have any other plans so it’s ok. To complete the game once, you’re probably looking at around 5 hours or so, depending on how much stuff you collect, explore or grind. That said, when Evoland shines, it really shines. £1.74 is definitely worth it I would recommend this game if you got the cash cash money laying around, especially if you’re a sucker for this genre and grew up with some of the games that I have mentioned.

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