Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where have all the good games gone?

The summer lull seems to occur almost annually these days. All the big developers are holding back their giant triple-A titles until the Christmas period. Nothing is being released, nothing is being announced. What can a gamer do with a distinct lack of new and interesting titles? If you’re anything like me, then you’ll be hitting the growing stack of unfinished games you’ve been accruing over the last few months. This blog post is dedicated to all the old games I’m playing at the moment that are seeing me through the dry spell until my next major purchase (Battlefield 3, Hoorah!).

Oscar Mike to the first game, The Tomb Raider Trilogy (alas only on PS3). This pack rams Legend, Anniversary and Underworld onto one Bluray Disc of glory. In addition, the former two have been given the HD treatment. Before I picked up the pack, I’d only really ever played the demos so I was shocked to find three great games for a really low price. Well worth a look for any PS3 owner!

I’ve also gone back to Mass Effect 2 to tidy up loose ends and complete all the downloadable content released in the games lifetime. One such mission, The Arrival, is designed to bridge the gap in story between ME2 and the 3rd instalment in the series due out next year. It’s been fantastic to get back into the game as it’s easily one of my favourite games ever made!

My girlfriend loves a game or two but it’s very rare we get to play together. I like driving games, she doesn’t. I like music games, she doesn’t. I like deep RPG’s, she doesn’t. But what we both like is shooting stuff in the face. Enter Borderlands, the highpaced openworld shooterRPG. The great thing about this game is the coop. We can work together if we like, or just run about shooting stuff. Many an hour has been sunk into world of Pandora and its vast amount loot and enemies with faces to shoot.

And finally, in lieu of what will undoubtedly be my game of 2011, I’ve been playing multiplayer Battlefield Bad Company 2. I’m not a massive fan of most multiplayer games as they make me angry and I REALLY hate to lose. For some reason though, Battlefield is different. It’s more strategic and team orientated than other shooters and it feels slightly more rooted in the real world. So if you lose it’s because the other team were genuinely better than you, rather than just opened fire from the hip at the right time.

Of course, as an alternative to the above, you could enjoy the summer snooze by putting the controller down and getting out in the sun. Ah hell, who am I kidding? Who needs sunshine anyway?

What do you have in your To Be Complete pile? What are you dying to have released?
Leave a comment below and let me know!

Friday, July 22, 2011

To the Brink and back!

The review process for brink has been an interesting one. Normally when I review a game it’s because I have had an experience worthy of discussing and that experience is usually a positive one. So when the fine people of asked me to review Brink I jumped at the chance to get out of my comfort zone and delve into a game I had no interest in buying.

In the run up to Brink’s release the hype was almost overwhelming. Everywhere I turned people could be heard talking about how good it looked and how fresh the gameplay would be. Personally, I rarely fall for hype. I have been burned way too many times in the past (here’s looking at you Halo 3!) to trust any opinion that derived from a pre release code. In Brinks case that turned out to be right on the money.

Previews of the game came back with rave reviews of how good the gameplay is and how well it all works. But on the day of release when millions logged into play, the game was marred with lag issues resulting in a completely unplayable game that many swiftly put down and went back to Call of Duty.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when I received the game and inserted it into my PS3.
Given all the bad press I had already read, I was determined to give the game a fair chance. If there was anything good about Brink I was going to find it and redeem it.

So, what is Brink?

In the future, some clever folk built a floating, self-sustaining city called the Arc. Everyone rejoice. As global warming came into effect and sea levels rise, the inhabitants decided to tow the city out to the ocean. Soon after, contact is lost with the mainland and ships full of refugees turn up. Cue several years of poverty and unrest for the ‘guests’ plus oppression by the Arc Security and you’ve got a recipe for revolution. The Arc Security want to ‘save’ the city and the Resistance want to leave it. A silly premise and one that could easily be averted by simply allowing those that want to, to leave.

That is the story, and don’t expect any more as you won’t get it. What you do get is a series of missions based on the faction you choose and their eventual objective coming to a close. Every mission plays outs with several objectives that are tied closely to the different classes available. For example, one objective might be to fix a crane to proceed. Only the engineer can repair stuff, but you’ll need all the other classes to get you to the location and protect you. One side assaults, the other defends. If the objective is completed, the attackers win. If the timer runs out, the defenders win.

The class based gameplay works very well. Everything is balanced as you would expect and everyone gets their turn to do something, everyone is useful and every class has strengths and weaknesses. Along with the gameplay is an extraordinary level of customisation. Not only can your entire appearance to be changed to suit, you can also customise the attachments on your weapon to allow greater choices on the field.

Readers who have played the game will note that I have yet to mention SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain). This basically boils down to the addition of a ‘parkour’ button that allows you to jump railings and climb buildings rapidly. The reason I haven’t mentioned it is because it’s rubbish. Don’t get me wrong, it does work, but it’s entirely unnecessary. Why have a button to traverse random crap in the level and not just remove all the crap?!

So what are the issues with the game? Well for one, the single player ‘experience’ is exactly the same as the multiplayer except with bots…Stupid bots…Stupid bots that don’t help you in anyway at all. I would define single player as DIY multiplayer.
The second problem is that everyone traded the game in on its dire launch week resulting in very few online players, so you can’t play online. And the third problem is even when you do get a game with real people, no one communicates. You end up with a team full of medics and no one fighting for the goal. It is possible that this experience is different on the 360 with its vastly superior chat functions, but in Brinks case I highly doubt it.

I really wanted Brink to be good. I wanted to write this review to tell everyone that is was safe to pick Brink up again. But the truth is it just isn’t good. There are two types of gamer who plays shooting games, those who play Call of Duty and those who play Battlefield. Brink appeals to neither audience in the long term.

Did you play Brink? What did you think of it? Or are you just waiting for MW3/Battlefield 3 in Q4 2011? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

LA Noire: Shining light or black as night?

LA Noire, an investigate-em-up from developer giants Rockstar, is a brand new intellectual property and is said to be unlike anything we’ve ever played before. For the most part this is true, though it’s far from perfect.

You play Cole Phelps, a decorated war hero, who returns to LA to right the wrongs of war and clean up the streets. Starting as an officer in the LAPD, you follow Coles’ career up to detective and work cases for various desks (Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson). On each desk you get a partner and they’re not always happy to be working with you.

So, how thrilling can being a detective really be? The answer is mostly, but not always. Searching crime scenes for clues is fun but slow paced and methodical and very reminiscent of old point-and-click adventure games. Similarly, the interrogations offer little in terms of excitement but are branching puzzle elements were you must decide if a person is lying or not based on their facial twitches and eye contact.

This leads me to the main selling point of the game, a new technology called MotionScan. This system uses 32 HD cameras to record the facial expressions of actors from every angle. The result is perfectly captured animations on screen and accurate digital recreations of actors that are so good that you find yourself saying “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Heroes?” throughout the game.

Action junkies will be pleased to hear these downtime sections are dispersed with high paced sequences involving both car and foot chases, gunplay and old fashion fisticuffs. At times, these feel like they HAD to be written to provide an extra 10 minutes of gameplay, but they break up the progress significantly enough to not bother you.

The games size is something to awe but also contempt. Reaching approximately 8 square miles, the map has been recreated using aerial photos taken over the 50 year career of Robert Spence. So good is recreation that you can navigate it using a route planner. The downside of the gargantuan gameworld is the distances to drive. Over a total of 12 hours game time, I spent no less than 2 hours behind the wheel of a car. Of course, this can be skipped entirely by making your partner drive. The massive nature of the game can be quantified by simply noting that it takes THREE discs on the Xbox 360.

My main concern with LA Noire is that I am not a trained detective. At times, the links you must make between a lie and piece of evidence are so obscure that only a genius would make the correlation. I felt that it was in the games nature to have you fail first before trying again in a different tactic rather than helping you genuinely solve some cases. One such example is the murder of a woman; you have two suspects with overwhelming evidence against both, the husband and a hobo. If you convict the husband you get a 3 star rating and telling off and if you convict the hobo its champers and 5 stars for you.

It’s the style of the game that will keep you playing. Everything is presented perfectly. You feel like you’re taking part in a genuine film noire. You can even play in crisp black and white (though if you do, you miss out on the beautiful colouring of the city).

The plot, that doesn’t really kick in until half way through the game, is a hive of intrigue, not only for the supporting characters, but also for Phelps. Little cut scenes showing his back-story appear after most cases and slowly reveal that he is not exactly the golden boy he first appears to be.

There in lies the truth about LA Noire. It should have been a film (or a series of films). Infinitely more entertaining to watch someone else played than controlling yourself but none the less a great effort to tackle the frankly lacklustre state of today’s gaming quality. No doubt a sequel will be in the works and hopefully it will tackle the issues presented here head on and provide an experience a little more refined.

In answer to my title question, this game is neither. It’s one of the many shades of grey that appear between black and white. But, like Heavy Rain, it is a great example that developers are not afraid to try something new, and not just churn out endless gimmicky nonsense.

What did you think of the game? What would you like to see in an LA Noire sequel? Leave a comment below and let me know!

2011 Gaming

This subject is massively important to me. I have been playing games since a relatively young age and watching films even before that. I’ve watched the progression in technology catapult the gaming industry from something geeks and nerds did in dimly lit rooms to the dizzying heights of full mainstream attention. Similarly, movies are constantly evolving with new techniques and state-of-the-art special FX which even appear to be 3D.

I find it genuinely exciting to be part of the era where storytelling is pushing beyond the veils of the silver screen and interactive experiences are becoming ever more realistic. But should we be careful? There are politicians that tell us we’ve gone too far, that realism is desensitising the masses and clouding people’s sense of right and wrong.

Across the course of my blog I will cover individual games and films and my thoughts on them. I’d also like to explore some of the political and health issues that arise when discussing the industry as a whole. I hope to provide good information that everyone will find interesting and maybe even inspire a few people to play/see some things they wouldn’t ordinarily try.

Top 5 anticipated for 2011
The coming year is going to be an exciting time for gamers. There are a host of massive sequels releasing as well as some new franchises coming to light. In fact, 2011 may just be the toughest Game-of-the-Year decision yet! Here are my top 5 games to look out for:

Mass Effect 3
The previous two instalments were both epic games, with ME2 receiving GotY 2010 from many sources. ME3 looks set to continue the RPG Action gameplay of the rest of the trilogy whilst expanding on all the great elements of ME2. Of course, those that have played the previous titles will be able to use their saves to carry over all their choices, but this time around newcomers will be able run though an interactive comic to make all the major plot decisions. Release date TBC.

Batman: Arkham City
The original Batman: Arkham Asylum took the gaming world by storm. Created by Rocksteady, it was evident from the start that they were batman fans. Some have called it the best Batman game ever created. Gameplay was a great mix of stealth action, fight sequences, epic boss battles and detective work. Arkham City follows on the story line, seeing the asylum expanding. This will lead to a lot more outdoor Batmaning across wider areas. It’s almost a guarantee this will be super polished and every inch as good as the last. Available from 21/10/11.

Battlefield 3
Battlefield has a long standing pedigree of massive online action with an emphasis on vehicular warfare rather than fast paced action you might see in Call of Duty. Previous console iterations have been a haven for those who prefer tactical thinking and teamwork based action. A new graphics engine has been built for this game, as well as fresh sound recordings. Release date TBC

L.A. Noire
From the creators of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire is a fresh IP that looks set to shake up the standard ‘go here, do this, speak to them’ format that has been Rockstars’ bread and butter for many years. There will be a greater emphasis on figuring out your own cases with detective work and chasing down criminals in the 1940’s setting. Get your hands on it 30/05/11.

Portal 2
The original Portal was released as part of The Orange Box collection, which contained Half Life 2. Gameplay consists of a puzzle game that lets you place portals around the environment to complete various objectives. Although it started out easy, the learning curve ramped up very quickly and became mind boggling. Portal 2 is a stand alone title that expands on the concept to increase the over all length of play from 6 hours to a full sized game. Add to the mix a coop mode (four portals at once!) and a wealth of new features and you’ve got yourself a massive reason to get excited for the April 21st release date.

These five titles have my taste buds tingling (and my wallet screaming) and I shall no doubt be breaking my vow of not buying brand new games on day 1 for most, if not all, of them!

Of course, there are plenty of excellent games coming out this year that didn’t quite make my list (Eldar Scrolls V, Operation Flashpoint Red River, Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3). What games are you most looking forward to? Do you have a top 5 of your own?