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…
Telltale 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.
This 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.
The 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.
Season 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….
As 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.
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!!!
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.
When 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.
Playing 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.
Indeed, 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.
The 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.
As 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.
Throughout 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.
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.
TO 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…
Oh well honour for all,
Of the big and the small.
Well, the taller they stand
Well, the harder they fall.
It 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.
Dishonoured (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.
Set 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.
Visually, 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.
Near 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.
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.
Dishonoured 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.
There 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.
As I write this I have only actually played about 25 minutes of the game. I had to stop because oh my goodness my head is now spinning. What caused this cranial conundrum? Read on to find out…
I picked up The Bridge because it was 69p on Steam’s midweek madness. Last time I got a game for that price I was extremely pleasantly surprised (see Tiny and Big review). Published by Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and developed by Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda, The Bridge is pretty much everything you would expect from an indie title – innovative art style with thought provoking gameplay. You play as an unnamed inventor-type fella who awakens from a nap after an apple falls on his head à la Isaac Newton style. From the level hub that is his house, you navigate your way through a series of puzzles to…well, I’m not sure why because I stopped playing…
The reason I stopped was because after completing the first of the four chapters my head was screaming at me to lay down. See, The Bridge utilises a physics engine, and the primary gameplay has you rotating each of the levels to manipulate gravity in your favour. It’s a cool concept, and allows you to traverse the M. C. Escher style designs by moving giant balls or swinging chains in your favour. But, for my poor little head, this trippyness proved too much, and I had to stop. I was enjoying myself though, so I will definitely scuttle on back later after digesting a few more litres of water. For you, dearest read o’ mine, it may be different, and your head may survive the disorientating gameplay. I hope so.
The game’s art style is completely hard drawn, and compliments the gameplay. Each level begins with your character being sketched into the puzzle, and that (along with the ability to rotate the levels at will) gives the player the feeling of an omnipotent being. Perhaps that will become more apparent in the game’s story as it progresses? Get all meta ‘n shit.
The accompanying soundtrack is nice too. It isn’t too distracting, but jut apparent enough to create an almost ominous atmosphere throughout the game (that, and the looming threat of a ball-like foe named the Menace…he is the thing of nightmares).
It’s clear that The Bridge has taken inspiration from other successful indie games, notably Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid. Coincidentally the three games featured in the must-see Indie Game: The Movie. That’s probably irrelevant. The level design is somewhat similar to that of Fez in the manipulation of space. The Super Meat Boy inspiration comes from the kind of cool idea that you can see everywhere you have died. And finally the game is very reminiscent of Braid in its drawing stlye and the fact that you can essentially rewind time if you die. These are not criticism in any way – if something works, why not utilise it? I’m just making an observation – if you enjoyed those games, you will probably like The Bridge.
There isn’t really much more to say about The Bridge. It’s current full price is £6.99, and whilst I will probably attempt to continue playing at some point, and although it’s pretty pretty and quite innovative, I think that the overall experience will become a little tedious eventually. I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But we’ll see. A lot of indie games do now seem to just implement a unique art style and call it a day (I’m currently playing through a game called Secrets of Rætikon that seems to be doing pretty much that…review will come soon).
I’m so into pirates right now. Like, seriously. Also, I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, so this review is for the single player campaign only.
If we’re not going to get an Assassin’s Creed game set in Victorian England, then I guess playing as pirates is the next best thing. A prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has you playing as AssCred III protagonist Conor’s grandfather, Edward Kenway – a Welsh eighteenth century sexy pirate who finds himself caught up in the ongoing Assassin/Templar War. The game opens with the ship that Kenway is on being attacked. After being marooned on an island, he ends up chasing down and killing an Assassin – thus, Kenway’s induction into the Assassin club is a lot less…traditional than previous protagonists, including Conor’s. Despite this chance encounter with an Assassin, Kenway is still an ancestor of dull Desmond, and is therefore related to Ezio and Altair too. So, even though he just happened to stumble on to becoming an Assassin, which I think is kind of cool, it was always in his blood. Perhaps that accounts for his unexplained super agility, skill with weapons, dashing good looks, parkour skills and Eagle Vision, like all the other members of the Desmond bloodline? Perhaps…
If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game before, which you should have, you’ll know what to expect from Black Flag. The game is actually a reconstruction of Kenward’s memories, thanks to the Animus. At any point in the game, you can get out of the Animus and explore the ‘real world’ (to an extent). In this scenario, you play first person as a faceless, nameless Abstergo employee, aiding the company in creating the ultimate entertainment experience after the success of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (yeah, it gets pretty meta.) But this is Abstergo, so I don’t trust them for a second and assume they’re actually trying to take over the world.
Back playing Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll spend most of your time climbing up buildings, towers, ships and trees with little-to-no difficulty. You’ll dive from ridiculous heights into conveniently placed hay bails without so much of a scratch. And you’ll kill so many guards in the name of JUSTICE that any morals you had before will be thrown out the window. You’ll also, obviously, see how many ‘innocents’ you can accidentally-on-purposley kill before you are desynchronised. Yes, Black Flag follows the same formula as previous AssCred games, but adds entirely new elements in its open world exploration. Previous Assassin’s Creed titles have had large open maps, but Black Flag’s world is set in the West Indies, and as such about 75% of the map is water, speckled with numerous little islands. This may sound like a boring waste of space, but Black Flag’s naval exploration is where the game really stands out. A couple of hours or so into the game, you gain command of your own ship, the Jackdaw, which can be upgraded with new weapons, armour, figureheads, steering wheels and sails throughout the game, enabling you to create the ship o’ your dreams! Controlling the Jackdaw is a welcome change from the clunky controls that burden Kenward on dry land – you can alter between different speeds, face wind residence, currents and must think quite tactically about how you steel, lest you end up ramming into a small island. There’s no real consequence for this (the ship only takes a small amount of damage from rock-ramming) it does add a few seconds onto your travel time. So if you’re busy and important like me, you’re going to want to steer quite clear. The naval combat is also superior to its land counterpart. Not much has changed in the latter since the last AssCred game – you still pretty much just have to stand there until someone attacks you, then counter it, then win. It gets very stale. But out on the deep blue sea, naval combat demands a whole different pace. The Jackdaw can be equipped with numerous weapons including cannons, fire barrels and giant bolas which must be used systematically to incapacity your watery foe. Weapons have a recharge time, so you can’t just fire them willy-nilly, and you and your enemy are pretty much constantly moving and circling around each other, so timing is very important. Not to mention that they are probably trying to ram and shoot you too. It’s just very satisfying, and weirdly doesn’t get that repetitive. The weather also poses another challenge, and changes dramatically: one minute you might be enjoying a tan on the deck, and the next you’re confronted with an angry maelstrom that’s throwing rouge waves and tornado at you. It’s very atmospheric! And you feel pretty epic navigating your ship through tidal waves and probable death.
Going back to the map, there is a large number of places to explore. From big towns like Havana, to tiny islands hiding a treasure chest, the world has an awful lot to offer. Too much…some might say. I mean, it’s great, but there are so many tiny islands scattered around with Animus Fragments or chests on that getting them is definitely going to take some time, if you’re a completionist. There are also dive spots that are unlocked further on in the game, allowing Kenward to dive into ruins of sunken ships and underwater caves huntin’ fer treasure. These side missions are an interesting change of pace and scenery, although I have to applaud Edward’s talent to be attacked by sharks, jellyfish, eels and sea urchins all whilst retaining his gigantic lung capacity. It gets a bit silly but I’m sure that can all just be put down to Animus trickery! Also, from the beginning of the game, you can find pretty much all of the collectibles, which is weird when they are then introduced in the story in sequence 3 or 4. It just seems a little bit like the story writers didn’t correspond much with the collectable planners. Additionally, (and this is just a little peeve) at the very beginning of the game you can go around freeing captured pirates, who ‘thank ya, Captain’…but you’re not a captain yet! You’re just a nobody with a hood! But, ah, details…
The story itself is quite compelling, and I am interested to see where it goes (at point of writing I haven’t actually completed the game yet…). I’m also curious to explore the ‘real world’ and see what the aforementioned Abstergo are actually planning. The characters throughout the story are quite fleshed out, with Edward being a lot more likeable than Conor, even if he is a morally gray scallywag. Like previous Assassin’s Creed titles, and one of the things that draws me to the series, Black Flag‘s alternate history features many real life historical figures, including infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But I tend to spend most of my time pursuing the side missions and the dynamic quest system. As well as the aforementioned collectables, there are also Assassin contracts, Templar hunts, whaling (which I always feel very bad about), naval contracts and a few mini games to privilege yourself with. The story and side missions themselves mostly follow the basic Assassin’s Creed principles: following someone, eavesdropping, chasing someone, assassinating someone, infiltrating a restricted area etc. Unfortunately these do become a tad tedious, and whilst many of the missions encourage a stealthy approach in their optional objectives, there is no real consequence if you’re seen; you don’t desynchronise, and as I said the combat itself is pretty easy so you can easily fight off a horde of enemies quite quickly. Also, there are some missions that require you to ‘stealthily’ follow another ship…which is stupid because on the open sea I’m pretty a fat off pirate ship isn’t the most inconspicuous.
One thing that the Assassin’s Creed games do well is create an atmospheric environment, and Black Flag is no different. The rain and water graphics look amazing, and it’s great to go from running around a tropical island to a busy port town. The weather is brilliant, and on numerous occasions I have found chills running down my spine as I’m chased through foggy waters by a ghostly looking ship. Black Flag is definitely a welcome addition to what is generally a great series. It corrects what Revelations and AC: III did wrong and is definitely up there with AC: II and Brotherhood in my humble opinion. There’s lots to do in a beautiful world, and it just highlights the fact that there really aren’t enough pirate games out there!
Oh, and as it’s Ubisoft, you’re forced to play via uPlay. “What’s your uPlay name?” said no one ever. Gah! Though, I must say, it’s nice that achievements and accomplishments can actually be used to enhance your experience of the game. You have that going for you, uPlay. Well done. But that’s it!
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released in 2013, developed by Swedish company Starbreeze Studios (who also did the Payday games, which is kind of odd) and directed by Swedish director Josef Fares, who wins the handsome smolder competition. Like Child of Light, we’ve got a real European feel goin’ on here. Also like Child of Light, one could instantly dismiss Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as being ‘indie-bait’ – the art style, gameplay, type of story and unique elements that make up the game are all those that make game reviewers rave about what an outstanding experience this is. But don’t let that deter you. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is truly a unique game, and only taking up about three hours of your time, it’s definitely one that you should check out. I can only rave about what an outstanding experience it is.
One of the aspects that makes Brothers a stand-out game is the control system. You play as two brothers, believe it or not: the younger Naiee and the elder Naia. A controller is required to play this game, as you, the player, manoeuvres each brother individually using the two analogue sticks. The shoulder triggers are also used to enable each respective brother to talk to other characters, grab ledges and generally interact with objects. That’s it for the controls. Simple? Non. As the game is played from a third-person overlooking view, you must keep the two brothers within a certain distance of each other at all times. This means, more often than not, controlling both Naiee and Naia at the same time. Believe me when I say you’re going to have to take numerous pauses throughout the game to reassess your bearings. Controlling one brother with one half of the controller and the other brother with the other half is difficult enough, but then you get an instance where they cross over and suddenly the right half of the controller is controlling the brother on the left and ahhhhhhhhhhhh. As such, rushing through this game is pretty difficult, which is great because if you take your time and absorb the surroundings you will get a much richer experience. Which leads nicely onto another aspect that makes Brothers such an outstanding experience.
Brothers is presented in an entirely fictional language that sounds a lot like Simlish (NOT SWEDISH!), an as such, the immersive story is told and interpreted pretty much entirely through gestures. Some critics have argued that this distances players from the characters and restricts you from really caring about them, but I disagree. By interacting with NPCs, exploring and really making the most out of the game, you can get a real feel for the brothers’ personalities: Naiee, the younger, is a bit of a mischievous dick but means no harm really, whereas Naia is a bit more gawky/cool in a Zac Efron in High School Musical kind of way.
The game opens with Naiee mourning at the grave of his mother, who drowned when she seemingly fell out of a boat, and Naiee was unable to save her, thus living with the guilt of her death. Naia beckons his brother over, as they must take their ill father to the village doctor, who then sends them on a mission to retrieve water from what is probably called the Tree of Life in order to save him. Thus their quest begins! Throughout their quest, the brothers must traverse through various lands to reach their goal. It’s these atmospheric environments that makes the game really feel alive. At first I thought the game was just set in your standard medieval work, but oh-ho I was wrong! The journey is an adventure, and along the way you’ll meet an array of interesting characters and settings that will make you want to just sit and appreciate how populated this world feels. It also really made to want to play Minecraft. There are various benches scattered across the world that allow you to just sit and enjoy the view for a while. This was a game that was meant to be enjoyed, not rushed. To make the world even more immersive, there are also several little side-quests along the way. These are very short, but offer a greater insight into how this world works, and how its inhabitants live. It’s an outstanding experience.
Ultimately, the Brothers is a puzzle game. To get from point A to B, Naia and Naiee must overcome various obstacles using teamwork and brains. These puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, but are still enjoyable for the most part. Some get a little tedious at times, but they always politely excuse themselves and leave when they have overstayed their welcome, like a good house guest. My personal favourite was climbing a giant tower, using momentum and PHYSICS to aid me along the way. Such an outstanding experience.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about relationships, overcoming fear and moving on from death. It would be cool to offer a co-op option, where one player controls one brother, which I’m sure would lead to some hilarious hi-jinks, but then I think that that would deduct from the overall impact and point of the game. Whilst at times I did get a teency weency bit bored, the environment and atmosphere sucked me right back in and made me want to play more. The Steam price of £10.99 is a little high for the three hours or so of gameplay that you will get out of it, but if it drops down to around £6 or so, I definitely recommend playing. Also you can abbreviate the title to Brothers: ATOTS, which is fun. It’s a real outstanding experience.
I originally decided to write this review in verse, as Child of Light is presented. However, it was shit, so I scrapped that idea and will just do a plain, vanilla review. I’m so sorry.
It must be said that Child of Light is a truly beautiful game. From the art style, to the score, to the story…just beautiful. You play as Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. One day, Aurora falls into a deathly sleep, and everyone assumes she is dead. But, plot twist, she is not! Aurora wakes up in the strange land of Lemuria; a land in which the sun, moon and stars have been stolen by the dark queen, Umbra. It’s up to you to restore it, as Aurora, the Child of Light! The game is developed and published by Ubisoft, and isn’t their usual MO, but don’t let those nasty sceptics put you off – they did a bloody good job! It’s also written by Jeffrey Yohalem, who wrote AssCred: Brotherhood (the best one) and FarCry 3.
The game is presented like a mixture between a children’s bedtime story and an opera. Just looking at the unique art style reminded me of books from my childhood, illustrated by artists such as Mick Inkpen, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. There isn’t much more I can say about the art style that does it justice – just check out some of my screenshots. It’s like a picture book come to life, and if that isn’t enough just to give this lovely game a go, the accompanying score is just wonderful. The game is a love letter to older JRPGs in numerous aspects – the music being one of them. Composed by Canadian artist Cœur de pirate, it seamlessly blends serenity with peril, tranquillity with jeopardy and even, dare I say it, light with dark. Once you have finished the game, the soundtrack is definitely something that you will not let go of. I have it playing right now (for scientific purposes)!
Aurora is joined on her journey by a firefly named Igniculus, who can be used to reach far off objects, heal, and slow down enemies in battle. The game also features a co-op mode, where a younger sibling can control Igniculus (because they won’t be controlling Aurora, will they?). There are seven colourful party members to unlock in total (eight with the Golem DLC) as the game progresses, each with a wide variety of skills such as healing, offensive magic, status magic, tanking and so on.
Fans of older JRPGs such as some of the older Final Fantasy games, notably VI, will feel a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Well, at least, I did. Combat follows a turn-based battle system in which combatants must wait until they reach the appropriate point on the battle gauge. Once they get about 3/5 the way down the gauge, you can select an attack. The rest of the gauge is ‘casting’. If a character is attacked whilst they are casting, they will be interrupted and sent back down the gauge. Igniculus can slow enemies down, allowing you to manipulate their battle gauge. As such, the battles require quite a lot of tactics and timing. Two members of your party can be in the battle at any time, but you can swap in and out whenever you want to issue an action, meaning that you can chop and change and tailor your combatants to suite the battle’s needs. There is a wide variety of enemies, and every character has their uses (albeit some more than others) so battles rarely feel stale or tedious. I played the game on the higher difficulty (obviously), which made it a lot more challenging but not impossible. It required me to think about fights tactically, and always be one step ahead, planning my next move. There were a few enemies that posed a bit of a problem, but in the end once I worked out their patterns it was quite straight forward. Bosses are often accompanied by a couple of ‘basic’ monsters, so my advice is always get those goddamn adds first! Outside of combat, players control Aurora through the nicely painted levels in a kind of Limbo side-scrolling puzzle solver way (just with much less child death…). The game also features an impressive skill tree which, whilst appearing quite dautning, is very straight forward so both veterans and newbs can grasp it. Once the story is completed, New Game Plus is unlocked, allowing you to restart the game with your current party and skills and fight even tougher enemies! #replayvalueOne unpleasantry is that the game uses Uplay. Yh. Once you get past this, all is well, but there is that initial moment when you start the game and you’re filled with dread as you have to sign in to yet another account using some annoying client that no one cares about.
As I said at the beginning (which feels so long ago now, doesn’t it?), all of Child of Light’s dialogue is written in verse. It follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB, and whilst an interesting and mostly well written approach, some rhymes do often feel a little forced and lazy, and as a result completely breaks the flow of dialogue. But writing a whole game in rhyme is pretty darn challenging I’m sure, so I can let them off for that mostly. Mostly. The story if endearing and thought-provoking, but it’s the overall experience that makes Child of Light a must-play. It’s just beautiful. Have I said that already? Probably. But it is. Beautiful. Go play!
Ok, firstly, whoever designed the menus for this game needs to be fired. You hear that, Wizards? Fire your menu man. Get a new menu man. Or menu woman. I don’t discriminate.
To coincide with the release of the core sets, Wizards of the Coast have been releasing the Duels of the Planeswalkers games yearly since 2011. If you aren’t aware, these video games are based on the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. The basic format for each game is the same – players must battle (sorry, duel) through a series of opponents in games of Magic. Whilst not as fun as playing with pals IRL, the Duels games have been a fun way to get that little bit of Magic fill when your friends aren’t about. Until now.
Duels 2015 is a bad game. As I mentioned, the menu screen is clunky and unresponsive. It takes about 4 clicks of “start” before you can actually get into the game. From there, you are greeted with an ugly ‘minimalistic’ black and white home screen. Once you have gotten over this melancholy menu, you must traverse rocky animations and perilous scrolling. You would be mistaken, after all this, for thinking that you can just jump into a game. But how wrong you are, my little cherub. Duels 2015 features a tutorial, which is very handy for new players, but if you’re a veteran of Magic then you don’t need to hear all this spiel. You can skip the five tutorials…individually. If you opt to take them, you are accompanied by a patronising female voice. It’s the kind of voice that, if you heard on the phone, you’d think “goodness, what an attractive woman!”. That isn’t what a want, Wizards of the Coast! I don’t want hot women mixing up my Magic! That’s like…antithesis. It’s confusing. I want to hear a gruff mage or something! Anyway, after the tutorial, you choose a colour from the five Magic colours – red, blue, white, green or black. From there, you are then taken to another screen where you pick a dual-colour deck centering around that first colour. I went with a blue/black, which (as you’ll know if you’re a Magic nerd) generally focuses on milling and discarding. This deck did not. As I was cast into this ‘boss’ fight, I played common after common after uncommon, with no real synergy or purpose. This deck was terrible. After a few attempts (I cranked the difficulty up to max because I’m awesome in my head) I beat him. Now the real game begins.
The story is alright – Garruk, a planeswalker, is cursed and has gone scatty and is killing other planeswalkers. You must track him down and gently soothe him into submission. Like more Magic lore, however, it’s one of those stories that reading the synopsis on Wikipedia is a lot more interesting than the actual thing. It’s basically just a chase through various planes, as was Duels 2014‘s story. The difference with 2015 is that this shit is canon. But we don’t play these games for the stories, do we?
Nah. It’s the gameplay that draws the boys to the yard. From the beginning of the game, you can only play with the deck that you chose in the tutorial. This is unlike past Duels games, in which you could choose from a variety of very different pre-made decks, each with an interesting play style. For me, this was one of the best features of the Duels game, as it enabled you to play with card combinations that you had never seen before. But unfortunately that has gone. Thrown out like yesterday’s ham. I struggled a bit, using my shit-deck to defeat the boss in the first plane, but managed to do it eventually. Afterwards you are given the option to now fully customise your shit-deck. However, unless you pay IRL money for awesome cards, your shit-deck is probably going to remain a shit-deck for a while (or a crap-deck at best). Yeah, Duels 2015 incorporates that old gamer favourite, micro transactions! Defeating enemies unlocks booster packs, which contain cards you can use. But if you want the real good’uns, you have to fork out for ‘premium packs’. This is, quite frankly, disgusting. Not only are you limited to only playing decks from a relatively small (300) card pool, you must pay for really good ones! If I wanted to pay for Magic cards, I would be playing Magic Online…or in real life! As far as the actual battles are concerned, the pace is quite quick, which makes a nice change from previous instalments. That’s about all that’s changed for the better really. They have gotten rid of the nice little animations on some of the uber cool cards from 2014, which is a shame. Also, when you enter combat, the playing board splits apart to reveal this big red…bit? I…I don’t even.
The pay-to-win situation is not even my biggest gripe with the game, as I was excited and forked out the money to buy the ‘special addition’ before the game was released, highly anticipating hours of joy, so I was rewarded with some pretty good cards. No, my main gripe is just the overall design. Duels 2012 had the Archenemy game mode: a 3 vs 1 game, where the 1 draws special archenemy cards to give themselves buffs and boosts. It was a fun addition that provided ever changing challenges. Duels 2013 had Planechase, in which players fought on different ‘planes’ that added various effects to the game, changing the dynamics completely. Even 2014 had its sealed mode, which was a complete let down and waste of time, but at least it was something. 2015 has nothing apart from the campaign. You can play a ‘practice match’ with up to four AI, but there is no option to make it a team game, only freeforalls (to my knowledge anyway – these other options may well be in the game, hidden among the tangling vines of the unforgiving and unforgivable menu screen). So the campaign is split up into 5 planes, with each plane consisting of four battles including a boss fight. There is an option to ‘explore’ the plane, which I assumed meant that you were cast into a 3D rendering or something, which would have been cool. But these are just some extra battles that you can do to unlock a couple o’ more cards. There is an achievement for completing them all, but there is no screen telling you how you are progressing. You just have to kind of guess when you have completed it, lest you be caught in an everlasting cycle of fighting spiders or minatours. There are a handful of extras features, which include looking at Magic adverts and a handful of concept art (with some information about each plane) but that’s it. I tried to jump into multiplayer too, but it seemed that no one was online…. But instead of giving me the option to quit whilst it was looking for a game to join, I was forced to wait a few minutes until it timed out by itself. What is this.
So there you have it. Save yourself some money, and go and play one of the old instalments instead of picking up Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. With clunky menu screens, poor pacing and less features than its predecessors, 2015 is more of a brain haemorrhage than fun game. I find myself genuinely getting angry when I play. I don’t want a smoke animation when I click exit! I just want to exit! They have turned the innocent Duels series into a bad clone of Magic Online. £6.99, as it is on Steam, is an ok amount to pay for this disappointment, but unless you fork out more you’re probably not going to have a good time. The question is, when Duels 2016 comes out next year, will Wizards rectify their mistakes, or will the Duels series fall into that money grabbing pit that so many games these days tend to do?
I have finished it and I want more!
Developed by Telltale Games, the same studio that produced The Walking Dead and Sam and Max games, The Wolf Among Us is (what I would describe as) a point-and-click-multiple-choice-crime-noir-episodic-adventure game. Like The Walking Dead, upon starting The Wolf Among Us, you’re greeted with a message that says “this game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored to how you play.”Goodness, I thought to myself, how exciting! Whilst the overlying plot is always essentially the same, how it pans out and how you get there is down to the choices you make. But we will come to that in a bit once I explain the amazing premise of this game.
The Wolf Among Us is set in the same universe as the Fables comic series, published by Vertigo (DC). The comics were first released in 2002, but I will admit I had never heard of them until playing this game, and I’m a self acclaimed comic nerd! For shame… In the world of Fables, various characters from fairy tales, fables and folklore have been evicted out of their homelands, and are forced to live among normal human beings (“mundies”) – some of which resides in New York City, in a community known as Fabletown. To protect themselves, the Fables must keep their identities hidden from mundies and the outside world, and as such use magic to keep themselves safe. Many of the anthropomorphic animal Fables, or Fables such as trolls or giants that cannot pass as human, must use glamours to disguise themselves. But glamours aren’t cheap, and many Fables cannot afford them – these Fables are sent to The Farm, which is supposed to be a safe-haven but is apparently more like a prison. The idea of incorporating fairy tale characters into the real world has indeed been done before, but nothing on this scale, I think. The Fables must overcome real life obstacles and band together to survive, lest they all fall apart. Some characters such as Bluebeard (who was a personal favourite of mine) are doing quite well for themselves, whereas others like the Little Mermaid have a much sadder tale to tell.
The story of The Wolf Among Us follows a gritty murder investigation in Fabletown – this game is not for the faint of heart! You play as Bigby “The Big Bad” Wolf. Yeah, that’s right. You’re the Big Bad Wolf. Bigby (Big B, get it?) is the sheriff of Fabletown, and is trying to relinquish himself from his past of killing grandmothers and blowing down pig’s houses to help his fellow Fabletown citizens. When one of their own is murdered, Bigby must hunt and track down the killer, avoiding detection from the outside world, and gain the trust and respect of the sceptical Fabletown citizens. That’s the gist of it really, without spoiling anything else. But surely that’s enough to entice you into the game? I know it was for me. But if not, let’s talk about the gameplay.
If you have played The Walking Dead, then you know what to expect. The game is made up of five episodes that were released bi-monthly from October 2013 to July 2014. Playing The Wolf Among Us is like watching an interactive series. A large part of the game is cutscenes, but at every conversational fork in the road, you must make a decision. For example, a character may ask Bigby how he’s feeling. You have the choice to respond “Fine”, “Great, thanks”, “Fuck off”, or “…”. How you respond will influence how the story pans out and how characters act towards you. Ask the right questions, and you’ll get the right answers. It’s like LA Noire, but not painstakingly boring. Out of conversation, you control Bigby through means of point-and-click gameplay. Each explorable area has a number of objects that you can look at or pick up to try and uncover clues and information, and piece the investigation together. There are also a number of quick time events to keep you on your toes during a couple o’ little brawls, but these are infrequent enough for them not to get boring and stale. Throughout the game, you also uncover character and event dossiers in the form of The Book of Fables, which is a great little add-on to help keep track of who people are and learn some of the lore surrounding Fables.
The game’s visual design is again similar to that of The Walking Dead: it’s almost animated. It’s a very unique art style that plays out well with the story. My one gripe is that sometimes characters’ movements and facial expressions looked a little robotic, but I can let that slide – it’s still immersive as hell. Musically, the score is brilliant at creating the exact atmosphere that the developers desired, and really adds to perilous mood. It’s that kind of score that you don’t really notice at first, but when you notice it it makes the scene ten times more impactful…which I don’t think is a real word, but describes my point wholeheartedly.
The Wolf Among Us has not only opened up a new series that I want to explore (Fables), but has also introduced me to a new genre of game. Whilst some people may find the interactive story elements boring, I personally loved every moment of it. A couple of the episodes are weaker than others, but all in all this was a great experience, and I want more from the world of Fables. My hat goes off to Telltale Games, who are currently working on a new Borderlands and Game of Thrones game – both of which I am very excited about.
I managed to get The World Among Us on the Steam sale for about £6.99, but it looks like it’s gone back up to nearly twenty squids. The story takes about 7 – 9 hours to complete, depending on your choices and how thorough you are. Due to the amount of choices the game offers, there is a lot of replay value: my first playthrough saw me as a kind, sympathetic Bigby, but I want to try again and be an absolute dick and see how that affects things. You can also compare your choice stats to others who have played the game. So whilst £18.99 is a fair bob, I think that it’s well worth it. Just keep a vigilant eye open for it to come down in price. Now, I am going to go and write fanfiction. I wonder if Jack Frost is a character in the comics? That could be interesting….