Monday, 29 December 2014

The Clayton Awards 2014

Game of the Year 2014 - Alien Isolation

‘Alien: Isolation initially struggled to win me over, but when it did, I was completely hooked. It’s an incredible piece of work and in many ways, it’s amazing it was made at all, given how risk-adverse AAA games have become. Isolation certainly isn’t going to be a game for everyone but I think a lot of people will come to adore it, despite its imperfections.’

Most Disappointing Game of 2014 - Burial at Sea (DLC)

‘Overall, Burial at Sea, even if you’re a fan, like me, of the core game, is simply best avoided. It adds nothing to the experience or to the characters. If anything it ruins aspects of both Infinite and the original Bioshock. I’ll concede it has a few nice moments (the torture scene was very well done) but not enough to save it. With a poorly paced and ill-conceived plot, combined with badly executed and dull gameplay, Burial at Sea is simply not worth your time. Let it sink to the bottom.’ (Full Review)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Now Playing: Bloodlines

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a RPG originally released back in 2004. I actually bought it on release, but the game was plagued by various technical issues and bugs and as a result, I never progressed very far before giving up on the title. Years later, however, I decided to give Bloodlines another shot, this time using an unofficial fan patch. Despite its flaws, Bloodlines developed a strong cult following and it’s not hard to see why.

You play as a fledgling – a newly ‘born’ vampire. You have the choice of belonging to one of seven vampire clans. This choice primarily determines your appearance and certain special abilities, but can also affect how you play and approach various missions in the game. For example, playing as a Nosferatu vampire offers a very different gameplay experience than playing as a Ventrue.

You can play the game in either third or first person. Although linear in terms of story (at least until towards the very end), you may progress and develop your character at your own pace. You gain access to four main hub areas (in addition to several mission specific locations) each of which contain various side quests to discover and complete for experience.

The game has rudimentary stealth and combat systems, both of which are tied to specific skills and stats which you can increase by spending experience points. You have ‘core’ stats relating to strength, dexterity and stamina, and then sub-stats relating to specific skills such as security (lock picking), firearms, computer (hacking) as well as various speech related skills – seduction, intimidation and persuasion.

The story follows your character as he or she moves through vampire society, interacting with various factions and characters both human and not. The plot revolves primarily around the discovery of an ancient sarcophagus which some believe heralds the apocalypse. As a fledgling, you’re seen as more of a tool to be used by those in power, all of whom have their own agenda. As you play through the various missions you’ll choose how you want to interact with these factions and who you want to support, if you wish to support any of them at all.

Missions can generally be completed in various ways. For example, you may use your speech skills to talk your way past a guard, or you may sneak around back and use a lock pick. Violence is always an option, of course, but there are certain rules you must adhere to as a member of vampire society. This is what they call ‘the masquerade’. The world doesn’t know about the existence of your kind (or various other supernatural creatures) and it’s your job to keep it that way.

I honestly couldn’t describe the gameplay as more than ‘serviceable’ though. Stealth and combat (whether melee or ranged), are both pretty basic, although you do get access to a decent and varied selection of weapons. That said, the melee combat feels lightweight and guns aren’t exactly satisfying to use. Enemies are mostly forgettable fodder with dumb AI.

Lock picking and hacking are also very basic. Everything does its job, but it’s really not why you want to keep playing Bloodlines. It’s important to note, however, that all of these skills are tied to the stats system, so some (such as melee combat) can feel rather useless and ineffective until you’ve pumped some experience points into them.

And although I said you can complete missions in various ways, that’s unfortunately not always true. There are times when the game forces combat upon you, which means if you’ve neglected to upgrade such skills you’ll be in for a rough time. Even though this was my third time playing, I still forgot to put any points in combat skills before a certain quest early on in which you can neither talk nor sneak your way out of a fight. I ended up using some rather cheese tactics combined with my vampire abilities to get through it.

There’s another section later on in the game where you’re trudging through sewers and you’ll really be f**ked without any combat skills. The ending missions in particular are very heavily combat focused. It’s certainly something to keep in mind as you progress.

So Bloodlines does have issues with certain missions in terms of not catering to varied approaches. It’s gameplay can also feel rather clunky and dated, especially in terms of combat. The final run of missions also feel rushed and lazily designed, relying far too much on just throwing a lot of bad guys at the player to fight. That said, Bloodlines is still a great game, and this is largely down to how it handles the story, setting and characters.

The way the game slowly introduces and builds the world around the player is fantastic. It’s a fascinating world to explore, full of intriguing and varied characters and creatures. The story holds your attention as you’re sent scurrying from one location to the next on a hunt for this mysterious sarcophagus. Along the way you’ll meet all kinds of great, memorable characters. Bloodlines has a fantastic cast with excellent VA, and it gives the player a limited degree of freedom in how you respond and interact with them.

The game is also sprinkled with a lot of humour, either through various things in the world (such as e-mails you can read, or radio shows you can listen to) but also through your dialogue options. The conversations in Bloodlines are handled brilliantly. It’s rare for conversations in RPGs to feel so ‘natural’. In the recently released Inquisition, for example, conversations can feel rather flat and monotonous as you exhaust all your options and characters just rattle off long winded monologues full of dry exposition. But in Bloodlines, dialogue is kept snappy and to the point. They feel real, like you’re interacting with real people who don’t have the time or patience for your endless questions and bullshit. There’s a flow to them that feels very natural. I really wish more RPGs would take a similar approach to dialogue and speech interactions.

I think I’ll wrap this up because I really don’t want to get into any more specifics and risk spoiling things regarding Bloodlines. It’s a great game, one which I think any fan of RPGs should play. Yes, the actual gameplay may feel a bit dated, but once you start boosting your various skills, things aren’t so bad and you soon grow accustomed to it.

The game holds up fairly well graphically, offering a nice variety of locations and environments. It has a good story, but it’s the world and characters where Bloodlines truly excels. As far as I’m concerned, it’s simply one of the best games ever made in regard to these elements. I’d actually rate it better than similar titles such as Deus Ex or System Shock 2 in those areas. It’s just a shame the ‘game’ part of Bloodlines is what lets it down a little. Recommended.


Friday, 19 December 2014

The Hatred Controversy

What is Hatred?

Hatred first came to my attention through a series of articles in the games media, the majority of which, to one degree or the other, condemned the game for literally being THE DEVIL. The trailer apparently demonstrated an extreme/unacceptable/uncomfortable (take your pick) level of violence based around an unpleasant premise – a murder-spree.

I was naturally intrigued. Could a game really be so shocking? We’ve seen such moral outrage many times throughout the history of this medium, but to see such condemnation from the games media itself was surprising.

So I watched the trailer. My response? I began to laugh. The trailer opens with a hilariously terrible monologue delivered by the growling, trench coat clad ‘antagonist’ (which is how the developer’s refer to the player character). I wasn’t sure if this was intended to be a joke or not, given how over the top and silly it was.

The trailer then transitions into gameplay footage, revealing an isometric twin stick shooter in a black and white world, where the only other colour you’ll see in abundance is the red of the blood of your victims. This isn’t the first game to employ such a stylised colour clash – MadWorld, released on the Wii of all platforms, had a strikingly similar aesthetic.

You are a spree-killer on a mission to kill as many people as possible before you die - ‘Only brutality and destruction can clear this land. Only the killing spree will make you die spectacularly and go to hell.


Before we continue, it should be noted that we only have a minute or so of spliced together gameplay footage to base our assumptions upon. Please keep that in mind. It’s amazing how much has been written about a game of which we still know so little.


Whilst the subject matter of Hatred may be described as ‘distasteful’ to say the least, I considered the actual violence on display in the trailer to be rather tame considering the media reaction. There have been many games released which are just as violent, graphic and brutal – if not more so! – than Hatred.

This year a game was released to exceptional critical acclaim – Shadow of Mordor. When I reviewed the title I described it as ‘Orc Murder Simulator 2014’. It’s a game primarily based around a combat system which allows you to kill your opponents in an increasingly brutal and violent manner. You dismember and decapitate your foes, the camera zooming in and switching to slow motion ‘execution’ scenes. Oh, and you can also make their heads explode.

You may argue that Mordor has a context that Hatred lacks. In Mordor you butcher (and enslave) orcs, not people! I’ll talk more about context later, but for now, I just want to make the point that the violence we’ve seen thus far in Hatred, on a purely mechanical level, is no worse than one of the top selling and critically received titles of the year. If anything, it’s tame by comparison.

Virtual Things

So why is such violence acceptable against orcs, but not people? This is purely my own personal take on the matter, but to me, I see no difference. I’m not slaughtering orcs or people. I’m slaughtering virtual things. They are not orcs, nor people, in the same way they are neither ‘good’ ‘bad’ or ‘innocent’ because a collection of polygons/pixels can be none of these.

If Hatred was another zombie shooter, there would be no controversy. Likewise, if you were fighting demons (in human form) or ‘terrorists’. I’m beginning to stray into the ‘context’ discussion so I’ll try to wrap this point up. On a core level (and this applies to many games) you are not shooting ‘innocent’ people in Hatred. You are not shooting ‘people’ at all. You are shooting virtual things. Yes, this is essentially the ‘it’s not real’ argument. But I think it’s a valid point to make.

The importance of context

From what I’ve seen, Hatred, on a mechanical level, is no more violent than many other games. But as many people have pointed out, Hatred apparently lacks a context for said violence. It doesn’t appear to be satirical in the same manner as GTA or Postal 2 (a game in which you can murder someone and piss on their corpse). And whilst you can embark on a murderous spree against unarmed civilians in those titles (as you may in many others, usually of the open world variety), it’s the player’s choice to do so.

Many games use combat as a way to test and challenge the player. Hatred claims it does the same - ‘You will also run, you will need to think, you will need to hide and fight back when armored forces will come to take you down.’ Because you’re not just killing unarmed civilians in Hatred. You, perhaps in a similar manner to a GTA spree, face off against the police and ‘stronger forces’ yet to be revealed.

Many games are violent. Some needlessly so. I criticised the Tomb Raider reboot for this very reason. It was a game which I felt strayed too far into silly, over the top (not to mention tedious) shoot-outs as Lara gunned down hundreds of dudes. But the game told us that these were ‘bad’ guys, so that made it okay, right?

When I played Watch_Dogs earlier this year, the game gave me the option of preventing criminal acts – a mugging, for example. It allowed me to chase and execute the mugger without penalty. The context, one may argue, is that the mugger was ‘bad’. But does that justify murder?

As I see it, the context for committing extreme violence in many games may be described as ‘flimsy’ at best. And Hatred is not the first game to offer little to no context to said violence. DEFCON comes to mind, a game in which you murder ‘innocent’ people by the MILLIONS and you are given no context for doing so.

A typical game will see civilian casualties numbering in the millions (megadeaths)’. ‘Players' scores are determined according to one of three schemes: Default (gain 2 points for 1 megadeath caused, lose 1 point for 1 megadeath suffered), Survivor (gain 1 point per million survivors in your territory) or Genocide (gain 1 point for each megadeath caused)


But here’s the thing, Hatred does provide a context. The developer describes it as a ‘Mad journey into the Antagonist's hateful mind.’ There is a context to the violence, whether you agree that context is acceptable or not.

An artistic medium

I see video games as an artistic medium, no different to literature or film. And in many ways, I’d argue that video games can illicit a far wider range of emotional reactions given their interactive nature. But if you accept the notion that games have artistic value (to a debatable degree depending on title) then I think it’s important to be willing to accept games like Hatred. Just as a film like Boyhood can be produced alongside The Human Centipede, Hatred has a right to exist alongside titles such as the recently announced Life Is Strange.

It may not have been the developer’s intention, (who have quite happily profited by such a wave of negative publicity) to explore any meaningful themes. They may not even see their own title as having any artistic value. However, the game has enabled a fascinating debate regarding violence and context in this medium. It’s an important debate to have, and it’s important for titles like Hatred to push these boundaries.

I want games to challenge, not just on a mechanical level. I want a variety of experiences which explore and enable emotional reactions both good and bad. Hatred may turn out to be no more than a mediocre ‘shock’ game designed to sell on controversy. But so what? We’ll quickly forget it, and move on.

I know people are worried about ‘outside’ perceptions when a game like Hatred appears. Just as literature, music, comics and film before it, video games are the scapegoat of choice for sensationalist media. And a game like Hatred is like dangling a juicy steak above them. But let’s face it, when even a game like Microsoft Flight Simulator can be accused of enabling terrorism who the f**k cares what they say or think? If it’s not Hatred, it would only be something else.

In Britain concerns about Microsoft Flight Simulator being used as a tool to teach terrorists caused two major retailers, Virgin Megastores and Woolworths, to remove the software from their shelves.



Grow up!

As I said at the start, the reaction of game media itself has surprised me. Perhaps it shouldn’t. I’ve avoided visiting such sites for many years now for various reasons I won’t go into here. Certainly people are entitled to their opinions, but some articles (written as ‘news’ pieces apparently) do little more than make snide, or flat out rude remarks about the Hatred development team or those who may wish to play the title. See this piece in particular -

Is this really the direction we want for game media? To attack game developers because they disagree with their content? To deride their own audience? More disturbingly, it feels like there is a push for a smear campaign against the Hatred development team -

Would another developer come under such heavy scrutiny? Is it now considered acceptable to dig into the personal life of a developer? If I recall correctly, many game media sites condemned such a practice not so long ago and considered it a form of harassment.

But game media itself has come under a similar level of scrutiny recently, so perhaps this is simply the reaction. By lining up to condemn and belittle Hatred, those who developed it and those who would support it, these articles have only served to a create a situation whereby voting for Hatred on Steam Greenlight now appears to be more of a vote against such regressive attitudes as it does for the game itself.

You may accuse the game of being immature and abhorrent, but to print such tenuous connections between a developer and particular political views in an attempt to discredit them is even more so. Especially when Hatred does not seem to espouse any political viewpoint. Indeed, it revels in the fact that there is little point to it at all!

And that’s totally fine.

I don’t know if I’ll play Hatred. I will if I think it will be an interesting experience, just as I played Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, Papers, Please! or the upcoming Life Is Strange. I voted for Hatred because it’s important, whether the developers intended it to be or not. The last thing we need is a return to the ‘ban this sick filth!’ campaigns of the past, especially not one fuelled by game media itself.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Now Playing: Dragon Age Inquisition

Dragon Age: Origins was a great game. Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, felt like an alpha build shat out in about 6 months. Which is a shame, because there are elements of DA 2 I enjoyed in terms of story, setting and characters. In some ways, I’d argue that the story of DA 2 is more interesting than in Origins. The story of Origins kept it simple – you are the chosen hero sent to slay the big, bad dragon. DA 2 broke free of this rather generic fantasy plot.

Unfortunately, Inquisition chooses to play it safe, returning to a more simple formula. You are the chosen hero, sent to slay the big, bad guy (plus his pet dragon). It has some good moments, but on the whole, it’s not as good as either Origins or 2. I’m going to try to keep this review as spoiler free as I can in terms of story, but I will get into a few specifics here and there as we go.

You custom build your character from a choice of four races, although sadly the choice of race has little impact on the plot or character interactions. This is something Origins did quite well, with each choice providing not only a unique prologue chapter, but various insights and decisions in relation to the main plot. In Inquisition, the choice of race and background is largely cosmetic.

Your character is the Inquisitor – the hero people believe was sent to save them from an army of invading demons. There are some interesting moments where the game explores whether you really are some kind of ‘chosen’ hero, or whether you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but like I said, Inquisition generally plays it safe. If you’re looking for more depth, nuance or shades of grey, you won’t really find it here. Origins also had a darker tone to it, a little more grit, which applied not only to the story and characters, but also to combat. Inquisition feels far more sanitised by comparison in all of these areas.

So you have your main Story quests and I can’t honestly say that many of them are particularly memorable or interesting, at least in terms of gameplay (there was one story mission which revolved more around the political side of things, which I thought might be very cool, but ultimately it resulted in a lot of tedious running about searching for hidden objects). There are, however, a fantastic series of missions about a quarter of the way into the game. Unfortunately, these represent the high point of the story and everything which follows feels like something of an anticlimax.

Throughout the game you’ll spend time building your organisation – The Inquisition – into a major political and military power. But ultimately, very little of this preparation comes into play in any meaningful way. As a result, all of your efforts towards building the Inquisition feels rather wasted and worthless. As you complete missions in the game you earn ‘Power’ which represents the strength of the Inquisition, but finishing the game with 0 Power or 200 doesn’t make the slightest difference.

For example, you gain the ability to upgrade your stronghold. I expected these improvements to be more than simply cosmetic – something like the upgrades to the Normandy in Mass Effect 2, perhaps resulting in a siege battle where what upgrades you’ve chosen and allies you’ve gained each play their part in shaping the experience. But there’s nothing so dynamic or bold in Inquisition. Choices, large or small, are all largely cosmetic and have little to no impact on the story.

There’s also a serious lack of meaningful consequences to your decisions. At one point you must decide the fate of one of your companions. I chose an option which suggested the Inquisition would incur certain penalties, yet this never occurred. This is a problem with a lot of the decisions in Inquisition. I suppose it stems from not wanting the player to feel penalised for making certain choices, but this results in all of the decisions feeling rather pointless. Like I said, Inquisition can feel sanitised compared to the original. Everything is just a little too neat and tidy for the player.

Even when I had a flurry of ‘X character greatly disapproves’ messages flood my screen after a certain choice, one of those characters then stepped up and simply agreed my decision was for the best. It’s not possible to make the ‘wrong’ choice in Inquisition, or even a ‘bad’ choice in terms of outcome. I really want to see consequences for our choices both good and bad which impact our evolving experience. And seriously, can we cut out the ‘approval’ messages entirely? Let me know if people agree with me by how they act or by what they say, by their expression and tone. It’s distracting and irritating seeing this shit pop up, even for characters who aren’t bloody present.

As for the Story missions in general, they are decent overall, but I never felt as invested in the narrative as I would have liked, although I think this is also due to the way the main quests are structured, which I’ll discuss more in a moment. I should also say that if you take the main story missions alone, there’s not actually very many of them and they don’t last very long. Overall though, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the story of Inquisition, but I was left feeling rather disappointed by it in the end.

I preferred the way the Story quests were structured in the original game. In Origins you had 5 or so main locations each with a single main quest. Side quests would generally all branch from this main quest in the local area. As a result, you always felt you were progressing through the main story as you moved from one area to the next. But in Inquisition, main story quests are only tied to a handful of the large, explorable zones and are mostly played out in mission specific locations you only visit once.

This means that several of the zones play no part in advancing the main story. As a result, working through them, though fun, feels like a bit of a waste of time because you’re not progressing towards your primary goal. They just feel like zones to grind quests and experience in so you can level up for the next Story mission. For the majority of your time, you’ll be grinding through barely (if at all) connected side quests. These make up the bulk of the content and they shift the player’s focus away from the main story far too often and for far too long.

In addition to the Story quests you also have Companion quests, Side quests, Collection quests and what I like to call ‘Chore’ quests. Companion quests tend to vary from good to rather poor – some companions get quite elaborate missions with multiple stages, multiple locations and even unique, one-shot locations, whilst others just get a shitty ‘go kill X of these’ type quests. Side quests are equally a mixed bag but are decent in general. Then we have the Collection quests which I actually quite liked, as they encourage exploration of the game’s large, varied maps and can lead to lots of cool hidden stuff.

The Chore quests are the most basic ones – go kill 10 of these, go collect X of these type stuff with minimal dialogue or motivation. There’s a lot of these and at times it can almost feel like you’re playing an MMO. However, if you find this extra side content repetitive and dull, you can easily skip most of it. In fact, there’s so much content here you can easily complete the game beyond the recommended level (I’m not sure if there’s a cap, but I was level 22) and not even visit a couple of the major zones. If you’re the completionist type, there’s enough content here to keep you busy for quite some time.

So let’s talk about the game’s zones. These are easily the best thing about Inquisition. There are about 10 major zones in all, not including smaller, mission specific areas. These open world zones are massive and full of content, quests, puzzles and hidden areas. Exploration in Inquisition is very rewarding as every area feels hand crafted with tons of details and little touches. The variety is also excellent as you travel from grassy fields, to mountainous areas, to deserts, to coasts, to forests, to marshes and frosty peaks. I really can’t fault Inquisition when it comes to environments. They’re fantastic.

In terms of companion characters, Inquisition does a decent job, but sadly none of them quite live up to those of the Original. There are nine in all, not including your three advisers. If anything, I’d actually argue there are too many and I’d have preferred six companions – two of each class. Why? Well, because there are so many, you’ll barely use some of them, especially those of your own chosen class. You may argue that the number of companions is comparable to Origins, but that’s only if you include the dog and forget about the advisers. Origins also did a far better job of introducing them into the game. I prefer it when companions are recruited as you progress, their arrival tied in some way to the main plot.

But in Inquisition, some companions, even characters I liked such as Iron Bull or Vivienne, just feel like they’re joining you to make up the numbers. Some of them also get very few scenes or interactions with other characters compared to others, not to mention some rather lame companion quests. It feels like a case of quantity over quality, and this is sadly a criticism which you can apply to the game in general. I’d have preferred less companions, but companions with more purpose, more interactions and more depth.

Aside from your party companions you also have three advisers based around military, political and spying. Each has their own little side quest and scenes, some more than certain companion characters, in fact. You can send these advisers onto their own missions to secure resources, unlock new areas and build your power base. It’s a neat little mechanic that gives you the feeling that the Inquisition is a power influencing things beyond your own actions.

Inquisition has far more character and companion customisation than in DA 2 and in some areas than in Origins. You have light, medium and heavy armours, many of which can be enhanced using resources or runes or certain upgrades. These also have a cosmetic effect in terms of colour, although I must say I would have much preferred the cosmetic customisation to be a separate option not tied to stats. Weapons can also be modified in a similar fashion.

Inquisition also features a pretty decent crafting system for weapons and armour, and recipes can be found or bought in the world. It allows you to craft customised, stat specific items (based on what materials you use) which you can then name. This is a great addition but sadly a rather unnecessary one. The majority of the recipes you’ll find are trash compared to gear you’ll pick up on your way. Even some of the high end crafting recipes aren’t much better than dropped gear and not really necessary when it comes to making a difference in combat. So it’s a good system, just a little pointless.

As I mentioned, your base of operation can also be customised but this only really relates to cosmetic stuff like what sort of windows or curtains your prefer. You can also upgrade your potions, tonics and grenades but it’s not something I found really necessary either. You’re very limited by what each character can carry in terms of these items, so you’ll probably just stick with the one or two you prefer and ignore the rest.

So how does Inquisition actually play? Well, it follows DA 2 in the more ‘flashy’ type of combat. As a result, I feel it lacks the impact and weight of Origins. It’s not bad or anything, but that MMO feeling does creep in at times. I can’t say I particularly like the class ability options either as they feel more restrictive than they did in Origins. For example, in Origins I could build a dual wield warrior with a secondary focus on ranged combat and switch between two weapon sets on the fly. That’s in addition to the shield focused tank or two hander DPS role. And then you have four further class specialisations to choose from.

In Inquisition I’m either a sword and board tank or a two hand DPS. Even if I split my skill points between trees, I’m unable to switch gear in combat. A few class specific specialisations spice things up later in the game but it’s definitely not as extensive as the original. Playing as a mage, I also never felt like I had the same amount of tactical options open to me in terms of class and cross-class combos as I did in Origins. It just feels a little more stripped back. There’s also a strange absence of healing magic, although I can’t say it bothered me all that much.

Inquisition has a ‘tactical’ view but it’s bloody terrible and frustrating to use regardless of if you’re using a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad. I totally ignored it and just stuck with pausing the game and issuing specific commands where necessary. Your companions have a decent enough AI in terms of using abilities and positioning, but the companion specific tactics that you could really dig into and customise in Origins are also totally stripped back in Inquisition to a very limited set of ‘behaviours’. Once again, I just didn’t bother with it, whereas in Origins I spent ages setting up dozens of specific triggers for every character.

In general though, the mouse and keyboard controls for Inquisition are okay and you get used to their quirks (no ‘walk’ toggle for example? Why?). That said, I was playing as a ranged character, and I found switching to a melee focused companion very strange and clumsy to control. There’s no auto-attack or automatic move to target so you have to position manually with the keys. You get used to it, but I think if I wanted to play as a warrior or melee rogue I’d probably play with a gamepad, although I’d then probably get irritated by the radial menus and limited ability slots. They really need to improve the mouse and keyboard experience.

In terms of difficulty, Inquisition isn’t very challenging, at least not on Normal. I think I’ll bump it up for my next run. Playing as a mage with the Knight-Enchanter specialisation though, it feels like I pretty much broke the game towards the end as nothing could touch me and I ended up soloing a dragon with relative ease. Speaking of dragons, the dragon fights in this game are great and by far the most interesting battles you’ll have, probably because they’re a little more slow paced so you get to spend more time managing the fight.

What else? The horses are a bit shit, but I think that’s another issue of control. I’d probably enjoy them more with a control pad. You also have a nice variety of mounts to choose from. As you explore the world you’ll establish new camps and even take over entire fortresses. It’s nice to do, but like so much of building up your forces, rather worthless in the end. In terms of bugs, Inquisition has a few, but nothing too terrible, although I did experience several crashes whilst playing, but over 75 hours that’s not too bad.

As for performance in general, Inquisition could certainly do better. I initially ran everything on Ultra and although I could hit 60FPS in some areas, in others it tanked to 20-30. I eventually knocked everything down to High and got a pretty consistent 60 with that aside from a few areas. Annoyingly, you can’t switch and experiment with different options on the fly and have to keep quitting out the game to test stuff. Monitoring my system, Inquisition never really seemed to be pushing it that hard even on Ultra, so I’m not sure what was causing the FPS drop.

Honestly though, even on High, Inquisition is a good looking game with some nice character models, great environments and effects. It’s just a shame some of the character animations, especially in cut-scenes, are so damn bad. They can be very stiff and awkward and it’s something they really need to improve. VA is of a high quality so no complaints there, but the switch to the dialogue wheel still bothers me. I can live with it, I just wish they’d include the option of having the specific line attached to each dialogue choice so I know in advance exactly what my character will say. My other complaint, though a minor one, is not being able to save custom heads in the character creator.

Inquisition also features a multiplayer mode, but I can’t say I was at all interested in playing it. Plus it has f**king micro-transactions. What the f**k? I can understand that shit in free to play titles, but not in AAA full price releases. I’m not going to let this knock my score of the game but they seriously need to cut this shit out.

Wow, this has gone on for a bit, but that’s because there’s so much packed into Inquisition it would be a shame not to try to cover it all. A lot of this sounds more negative than positive, but you know when I write so much about a game it’s usually because it’s a game I like, but I just feel it has a lot of issues holding it back from being great.

Inquisition is a good game and it feels like a real return to form after the terrible Dragon Age 2. It has an almost ridiculous amount of content and though a lot of it may be rather shallow and forgettable, there’s also a lot of really great stuff mixed in there too. No, it’s not as good as Origins, but it does do a few things better and it’s a massive improvement over DA 2. If you want an enjoyable RPG you can sink a ton of hours into I think you’ll find a lot to keep you happy here.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Gaming Update

Although I thought Dragon Age 2 was utter bollocks, I’ve decided to give Inquisition a spin. I’ve been watching a lot of videos and what I’ve seen looks promising. Plus, there’s nothing else coming out that interests me right now, and I’m craving something I can sink a ton of hours into.

What little interest I had in AC:Unity rapidly faded when I heard of all the technical issues and bugs. But even without those problems, who thought adding micro-transactions into the series was a good idea? Or forcing players to use a companion phone/tablet app alongside the game? That can f**k right off. Also upcoming from Ubisoft, Far Cry 4 looks like Far Cry 3.5 so I really can’t get too excited about it.

I was a little tempted by the new CoD having not played a title in the series since MW2. I saw a lot of praise for the new mobility and verticality of its MP. Ha! Watching videos of it only made me want to go back and play some Titanfall. If people really want fast paced mobility and verticality, TF is the place to go.

I put together a run and gun kit of an SMG with the stim ability and extended wall running and it’s like playing Sonic the Hedgehog on speed. They also added some new game modes – Frontier Defence is a players vs bots mode (which is something I actually suggested way back in my review). It’s pretty good fun, but it really depends on the map as some are way too easy to beat. There’s also Marked for Death, which is a neat twist on TDM, and the recently released ‘floor is lava’ mode. Once again, it really depends on the map, but it can be very fun.

The Titanfall player base may have dwindled but I never have trouble finding a game. It’s likely I’ll grow tired of it again after a few weeks, but it’s great to see these updates and improvements, all of which have been free.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Now Playing: Gone Home

It’s 1995 and you are 21 year old Kaitlin Greenbriar. You return home from a trip abroad on one dark and stormy night only to discover the house deserted. Where are your parents? Or your sister, Sam? Gone Home is something of an interactive mystery house. Entirely at your own pace you can explore, find clues and figure out what happened.

So far, so intriguing. When I first entered the house it reminded me a lot of Shenmue, which may seem like an odd comparison. But one of the first things you can do in Shenmue is walk about your own house, opening drawers and cupboards and rifle through people’s personal possessions. And that’s what you’ll be doing throughout Gone Home. You’ll be walking through this house, poking about, searching every drawer and examining all sorts of (mostly mundane) items. Like a toilet roll! Why? Because maybe there’s a clue in the roll! (Tip – there’s not!)

I actually really enjoyed this aspect, although I’m not sure I was supposed to spend so long making piles of assorted junk in the entrance hall. Of course, this exploration and examination is more than just cosmetic. Certain items you find will trigger ‘journal’ messages from your sister. As you progress and find more of these recordings you’ll piece together exactly what happened. And this is really the main story of Gone Home – what happened to Sam.

But there are other stories in this mystery house, full of secret passages and hidden rooms. By reading various notes and letters throughout (as well as discovering particular items) you’ll gain an insight into the lives of Kaitlin’s parents and their relationship with Sam. There’s also a little side plot about the previous owner of the house. This is something Gone Home does pretty well – building these narratives through your own exploration.

So far, so good. The game looks nice and builds a good atmosphere with some great lighting and sound. The attention to detail is also great and as someone who was a teenager back in 1995, I loved a lot of the details. It does feel (mostly) like a real place where people live. Although alone in the house you come to feel that Sam is your companion, guiding you through from one clue to the next. Her VA is fantastic and adds a lot to the game.

So where does Gone Home go wrong? Well, although the freedom Gone Home grants the player is great, it can result in you stumbling across something that might break the flow of the narrative. About 20 minutes in I found a ‘secret’ area and realising I probably wasn’t supposed to go there yet, I backed out. Which was lucky, because if I had followed it through I’d have ended the game barely as it was getting started. Which would be a shame, because exploring the house, opening up new areas and finding each successive journal entry is extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

My other concern is that the side narratives are rather undercooked and don’t really lead anywhere. I was expecting a little more from them. This, sadly, is also a problem with the main story and my primary issue. There was a point about an hour and twenty minutes into Gone Home where it felt like things were really getting interesting. I was enjoying it a lot, far more, I must admit, than I was expecting. And then it just ended, incredibly abruptly.

Oh. I don’t want to get too much into the story stuff because I really don’t want to spoil it for people. All I can say is that the ‘ending’ just fell totally flat for me. I just sat there and thought ‘is that it?’ It’s not such a case of expecting some grand, dramatic finale or anything like that. It simply feels like the story took a great leap. As if we’d jumped from the middle of the tale to the very end. It wasn’t very satisfying and left me feeling like I’d missed out on a lot of stuff.

Only I hadn’t. I had all the journal entries so I certainly hadn’t rushed anything. But the ending of Gone Home did feel rushed. I was getting swept along with the story and then suddenly it wraps up in the space of a couple of minutes leaving me feeling rather deflated. It felt like there was a lot more story to these characters, especially the parents and their involvement.

Overall though, I liked Gone Home. Like The Stanley Parable, it’s something I’ll probably spend a few days debating internally whether it’s a ‘proper’ game or not before remembering that I don’t really give a f**k. It’s an experience, one I enjoyed and ultimately that’s all that really matters. Like Stanley, I’d recommend it to those who want to try something a little different. It’s neat, but it does feel a lot like eating half of a delicious meal before the plate is suddenly snatched away.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Work in Progress: QOTSS

Parts 1 and 2 of QOTSS are now complete. Normally when I’m about half way through writing a book, I begin losing that early enthusiasm, but because of the way I’ve structured QOTSS that’s not really happened.

I think I mentioned before that the book is split into multiple parts, four in all. The first three parts all take place in different locations with completely different characters (aside from the MC). They each have their own little story arc, antagonist and resolution. The fourth part will then tie everything up, bringing all of these characters together.

It’s been an interesting way to approach a story that I’ve not really tried before. The potential downside, of course, is that secondary characters may not have the necessary time to develop to any great degree, as each part is relatively self-contained. That said, this is a story very much focused on the journey of the MC over several years. Each part of the book represents another stage of her journey.

I suppose I could have told this story in a more straightforward manner, but where would be the fun in that?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Now Playing: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor or ‘Orc Murder Simulator 2014’ is what happens when you take the Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham games and mash them together with a complete edition of The Lord of the Rings. It’s a game about killing orcs. Lots of orcs. It’s probably the best orc killing game ever made. You can put that one on the box, guys.

The game is about a guy called Talion (I think?) who sets out on a mission of revenge because nobody could think of a more interesting motivation. The story of Mordor is one of its weakest components. Talion is a bland, humourless sod, accompanied by a dead elf who pops up on occasion to say something in his serious voice. You also meet a dwarf and some woman, oh and some other bland guy. I don’t really remember. Honestly, the story and characters of Mordor are completely forgettable. Well, that’s not strictly true. The human story and characters are, but I’ll elaborate more on that later.

So let’s get stuck into the best thing about Mordor – the combat. Which is fortunate, because the combat is about 99% of the game. The combat, on a base level, plays out just as it does in Batman. You have attack, evade, stun and counter buttons. Every hit counts towards a combo, and once you chain a few hits together you’ll be able to perform special moves. The combat animations are great, and the fights are bloody and brutal. As you progress you’ll earn experience and skill points which can be used to unlock new abilities. These include the standard health/ammo/focus (slow-mo) upgrades, plus a selection of new or enhanced powers.

Once you’ve unlocked all of these, you’ll have a wide and varied selection of tools at your disposal to murder your way through as many orcs as you please. It’s satisfying and very, very enjoyable. Combining your different skills and abilities, tearing your way through an orc stronghold and watching them flee never fails to amuse. The problem, of course, is that it’s all too damn easy.

But before we get into the difficulty issue, let’s look at the Assassin’s Creed element. Direct combat is a big part of Mordor, but there’s a focus on stealth too. You can sneak about, scale walls and buildings and perform stealth kills. Amusingly, Mordor made me feel more like an assassin than any of the Assassin’s Creed series ever really did, especially when you factor in the ‘intel’ aspect as you uncover information about your target and use it appropriately to give you an edge in a fight.

The myriad of combat and stealth options are fantastic, allowing you to approach every mission in a variety of ways using a wide pool of abilities. It’s a lot of fun, and I never really grew tired of it. However, as I’ve already said, the difficulty is a serious issue. In my 22 hours of game time (you can probably blast through the main story in about 10-12, but you’re looking at about 20-25 if you want to 100%) I only died three times. THREE times.

Right from the start, you’re practically unstoppable in a fight. And as you level up and unlock new skills and upgrades, you only ever grow more powerful. You learn lots of new ways to kill things, which then unlock even more new ways to kill things. By things I mean orcs. Lots of poor, poor orcs. It’s fun, but extremely easy. Even the Warchief fights, which you think will turn out to be really tough ‘boss’ type encounters, aren’t all that hard, even early on. Hell, I killed all 5 in the starting area when I was only about 6 hours in.

Another problem is the lack of enemy variety. There are three, maybe four types of orc in terms of weapons, tactics and type of attack, but they can all be killed in exactly the same manner. If you’re looking for a little more tactical play, like we had in Batman – with different foes requiring different gadgets and approach – then you’ll be disappointed. In Mordor, you can mass execute your way through everything with ease.

So the story is a waste (with a terrible final ‘boss’ fight too) and the combat, although fantastic fun, seriously lacks in challenge. But Mordor has another component, something unique and quite interesting – the Nemesis system. As you progress through the story you’ll gain the ability to ‘brand’ orcs and make them your slaves. There’s this whole system of orc Captains and Warchiefs you can brand and manipulate. It creates new side quests that allow you to play one against the other, or push your own personal ‘favourite’ orc right up through the ranks. It’s enjoyable to mess about with and it’s where the orc personalities really shine.

The human characters of Mordor may be forgettable, but the orcs are great! There’s a lot of different orcs that can pop up, all with unique names, features, weapons, abilities and weaknesses. The VA for them is also great, giving each a distinct personality. Some you ‘kill’ may return, perhaps missing an eye, seeking revenge. You’ll grow attached to some of them and come to loath others. You’ll build your own stories within the game through your interactions with these orcs, which is fortunate considering how dull the actual story is.

But whilst the Nemesis system is certainly interesting, there’s not a lot of depth to it. Once you’ve played one of its side quests (I think there are about 5 types in all) you won’t really want to keep doing them over and over again. It’s also not that hard to get your chosen orcs into the Warchief positions. And when you have a few Captains and Chiefs on your team, it becomes even easier to enslave/kill the rest. And once you’re in full control of the orc ranks, then what? I guess you could kill them all and start over, but what would be the point?

The Nemesis system is also disappointing in the sense that it never really leads anywhere or has any real influence in the story. You’re told several times that you’re ‘building an army’ but you never get to actually see it. Towards the very end of the game you’ll be joined by the Warchiefs you’ve branded, but no Captains or common soldiers. They do very little in a couple of very small fights and then just f**k off. Thanks for the help, assholes.

Imagine for a moment if the Warchiefs were directly tied to the orc strongholds in the game, and by controlling a Warchief you also controlled the stronghold. It could lead to a very cool strategy mechanic whereby you could order a Warchief to assault a rivals stronghold. You could then help the assault by taking down defenders, opening gates etc. Sadly, the most you can do is start a ‘riot’ between two Warchiefs in a little skirmish. I was hoping at the end of the game I’d be involved in a seriously big battle with all my Warchiefs, Captains and all the orcs under their command being involved. It just doesn’t happen. So although the Nemesis system is enjoyable to tinker with, it’s also completely bloody pointless.

Graphically, Mordor looks very good, although some environmental work, particularly in the first area, isn’t great. There are two open world areas, but neither is that interesting to explore or look at and both are mostly the same thing – one just has more grass than the other. In addition to the main story missions and the Nemesis stuff, you have 30 side challenges relating to your three weapons – sword (combat) dagger (stealth) and bow (ranged). Some of these are quite fun, but the majority are quick and forgettable. There are also two types of (worthless) collectibles to track down. Well, one type does give you some text to read, at least. As in Assassin’s Creed, each area has towers (high points) you can scale to reveal collectibles and side missions.

The only other side content in Mordor (and unfortunately the bulk of it) is the Outcast Rescue missions, 24 in all, but once you’ve played one you’ve really played them all. They are repetitive and dull, and will feel like a real grind if you intend to work through them. And that’s about it for side content.

Wow, it sounds like I’m really taking a dump on Mordor, but despite all my issues with it, I still had a lot of fun playing it through. The story may be bleh, the open world dull, the side content repetitive and the combat lacking in any sort of challenge but despite all of that, I never got tired of cutting my way through 50 or so orcs, watching their heads fly as I zipped about between them, totally untouchable like some crazy ORC GOD OF DEATH. Combined with the Nemesis system, the combat creates some fantastic, organic experiences in the open world. It’s just a shame that so many of the supporting components totally fall flat.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Return to Rome 2

With the release of the Emperor Edition update, I decided to return to Rome 2 to see what was new. I’ve played it on occasion since release, usually to test a new patch, but this is the first time I’ve gone back to the game and completed an entire campaign. Actually, it’s the first time I’ve completed an entire campaign – period. But more on that later.

So let’s start with the technical stuff. The game is in far better shape than at release. I didn’t have too many issues with the release version, at least not for the first 20 or so hours, but over time they began to grow increasingly apparent. I’m pleased to say that Rome 2 now runs extremely (and consistently) smoothly, even during some large 40v40 siege battles. If you zoom into a mass of troops fighting in a battle of that scale it can still drop rapidly in terms of FPS, but it’s certainly not unplayable, and the typical 20v20 battles that make up the bulk of a campaign are completely fine.

There also seems to have been some slight graphical tweaks, although I’m not entirely sure. I played on Ultra settings (Extreme didn’t really seem to add anything noticeable other than a FPS drop) and it still looks great, but it feels more sharp than at release, with more vibrant colouring. Bugs! In about 60 hours of play, I don’t think I saw a single bug, so that’s certainly an improvement.

But what about the AI? Battle AI is now consistently solid, although on release I’d see more of the AI holding back units in reserve, and that’s something I didn’t really see at all this time around. That said, the Battle AI does its job. It holds formation, uses its units fairly appropriately and flanks where it can. But ultimately, unless it outnumbers you in terms of numbers and/or quality you won’t have too much trouble defeating it.

Siege AI has probably seen the biggest improvement given that on release it would just stand still a lot of the time and do nothing or, on occasion, it might blindly decide to run its entire army through a wall of spears. I’m glad to say that neither of those things happened during my time with this update. Path finding seems much improved, and enemies sensibly attack at multiple points rather than just try to charge through a tiny kill zone. Campaign AI is a lot better. It seems to manage its economy far more effectively and puts together far more sensible army compositions (as opposed to 90% slingers).

There have been a few changes to the campaign map in terms of building mechanics, but the political system has had the most significant overhaul with new info screens, making it far more clear how the civil war mechanic is playing out. In the release, civil war was pretty much inevitable, but now it’s possible to avoid it entirely (as I did in my campaign) by managing the political side appropriately. It’s still not exactly particularly exciting or in-depth, but it’s much better than how it was presented at release, although I did find it very easy to re-balance the power struggle whenever I needed to.

There’s quite a bit of free new content that’s been added to the game in terms of units and factions, plus an entirely new campaign, in addition to other mini-campaign DLC. I played through Caesar in Gaul, which was a neat, self-contained little campaign, and then through an entire Grand Campaign. I haven’t yet played the Hannibal campaign or the new Augustus campaign. As I said, this was the first time I actually played a Rome 2 campaign through to completion.

I’d played a few, 3 or 4 in fact, since release, but I always stopped before hitting my victory conditions. Why? Because I felt, and still do, that the conditions are a little too excessive. The easiest to obtain is the Military Victory, but it requires control of at least 90 regions. And the fact is, once you hit about 50, you’re pretty much unstoppable and there’s very little fun to be had in steam rolling the rest of the map for another 8 hours or so.

Thankfully, allies count towards your victory count, and that’s how I finished my campaign this time around, by simply signing alliances with every other major power. Even so, it still felt like a bit of a slog towards the end. I wish they’d reduce the conditions to something more manageable. For example, I hit every condition for the Economic victory save for income per turn. I was about 60 thousand short. Plus, you need to maintain 15 trade partners, which in an ever shrinking map of expanding empires, isn’t easy to do.

Overall though, I have to say Rome 2 has finally won me over. I enjoyed my campaign a lot, played most of the battles (at least until the very end) and found myself getting quite addicted due to the ‘just one more turn’ quality. Is it still disappointing? Well…yes, but I think that’s mostly because the release was such a disaster and it’s hard to shrug that feeling off. But if I had to review it again now, based on what it’s become with a year or so of patches and support, I’d probably give it a solid 7/10. It’s slowly transformed into a worthy entry into the Total War series. But seriously, guys – don’t let this happen again.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Now Playing: Alien Isolation

Alien: Isolation is a first person stealth/survival horror title inspired by the original Alien. Set 15 years after the events of the film, you play as Amanda Ripley, joining a mission to the Sevastopol Station to retrieve the flight recorder of the Nostromo. As you can probably guess, things don’t exactly go to plan.

The first thing that strikes you about Isolation is how damn authentic it is to the original Alien. The attention to detail is tremendous, and everything in the game feels meticulously hand crafted and placed with the utmost care. Visually, Isolation is a fantastic looking game. Lighting, shadow and smoke effects are particularly excellent – static images really don’t do it justice. Isolation also has outstanding audio design. From the sounds of the station to the dynamic soundtrack, this is one component of isolation which is practically flawless.

Isolation has quite the slow paced opening, introducing you to the world, characters and mechanics of the game. The opening hour or so essentially serves as a tutorial section. It is, I must admit, a little tedious to sit through, and as a result I was initially somewhat underwhelmed by the game. I think this is partly due to the fact that although Amanda may not know what lurks within the station – we do, and we’re all waiting for the star of the show to arrive. But the developers certainly like to tease, and you won’t encounter the alien fully until nearly two hours in. But when you do…

Isolation is a game primarily of stealth. You can run (not generally advised) walk or crawl. You’ll be crawling a lot. Under desks. Under beds. Into lockers and cabinets. But this isn’t a stealth game like any you may have played before, and that’s all down to the alien AI. You have various tools to assist you – the motion tracker, flashlight and flares plus an assortment of craftable items and weapons. Yes, weapons. Because there’s actually far more action in this game than you might expect. It certainly surprised me, but in a good way.

A lot of the items you can craft are used primarily for distraction, to lure the alien or other opponents away from where you need to go. But some can be used offensively too. There’s a certain risk/reward system at play. These items can be extremely helpful, but you must use them with caution and restraint. It should also be noted that you have to find the blueprints for these items (and upgraded versions) yourself. Although they can usually be found in areas you’ll need to visit, the game, refreshingly, doesn’t spoon feed them to you.

The game is, aside from a couple of sequences, brilliantly paced, continually varying up the gameplay and environments. If you’re concerned that Isolation is a game entirely of hide and seek – don’t be! During the early stages of the game, when you’re rather under equipped, it most certainly is, but as you progress and unlock new weapons and tools you’ll learn that ‘aggressive stealth’ is the best way forward. Hiding for too long in one location can actually be dangerous in Isolation, as the alien as well as other enemies will eventually sniff you out. There are also moments when you can disregard stealth almost entirely and adopt a rather liberating ‘guns blazing’ approach. These bring a welcome change of pace and sense of relief after some extremely tense cat and mouse segments.

I played Isolation through on Hard in about 18 hours. Although story progression is linear, you’re free to explore the station mostly at your leisure, although certain areas remain locked off until you gain access to various tools. You’ll find the typical audio diaries and computer logs allowing you to build a picture of events prior to your arrival, as well as collectible ID tags and crafting components. On Hard, Isolation presents an extremely rewarding and satisfying challenge. You save your progress at terminals dotted about the station, a system that may be a little frustrating for those who have grown too accustomed to extremely forgiving checkpoint systems.

Isolation is distinctly old-school in many aspects of its design. It doesn’t really hold your hand, tell you exactly where to go or what button to push. And it will punish you for failure. That said, it never feels unfair, and the save stations are fairly generously placed. It just takes a little patience and planning as you approach each area.

In addition to the alien you’ll be dealing with hostile human survivors and androids. The humans are probably the weakest part of Isolation. Human animations are oddly stiff and awkward, and their AI is very hit and miss. Thankfully, they don’t show up very often. The androids on the other hand are one of its best features. They are creepy as hell, walking just fast enough so that you can never quite outrun them, often making polite conversation just before they crush your throat or stomp on your face. They remind me a lot of the exploding service robots of System Shock 2. In fact, a lot of Isolation in terms of design reminds me of that title. In many ways, it feels like the sequel to System Shock 2 we never received.

Which brings us onto the star of Isolation – the alien. Unlike other stealth games, the alien has no set patrol patten. Although clearly scripted to appear at certain moments, once it enters the environment it runs entirely on its own AI. An AI designed to relentlessly and ruthlessly hunt down any prey. Yes, that means you. As a result, the alien is unpredictable. It may decide to stop, turn and head back the way it came. Or it may decide to wait behind a door, motionless (and therefore won’t be picked up by your tracker). Or it may hide in a vent, waiting for you to pass underneath.

This unpredictable nature means the alien genuinely feels like an actual, living creature hunting you. If it gets the sense you’re in an area, it will search it – thoroughly. And don’t think hiding under desks or in lockers makes you invisible – if you’re in a clear line of sight, it will catch you, and it will tear you out of any ‘safe’ hiding place. Over time, you will begin to understand the behaviour of the alien in terms of its ‘moods’ from the sounds that it makes, but you can never entirely predict exactly what it will do or how it will react. Oh, and it also ‘learns’ over time, so if you keep trying to use the same tactics against it, say by distracting it with a flare, it won’t be fooled.

I can see this unpredictable nature being frustrating for some, because in some areas, especially the first time you encounter it fully, it’s hard to shake off and you’ll die. A lot. But this almost serves as a rite of passage as you learn the best way to ‘manage’ the threat of the alien. Over time, fear of the alien will slowly turn to respect. So many games are about making the player feel powerful and in control. Isolation is the exact opposite. One thing the game does brilliantly is continually make you feel like you’re just starting to take charge of the situation, only to pull the rug out from underneath you, leaving you feeling powerless once again.

The story of Isolation is good, but it’s nothing surprising if you’re familiar with the films. It has a few twists and turns here and there, and there is some stuff I really wasn’t expecting to see, which came as nice/nightmarish surprise. I won’t say any more because I don’t want to spoil anything. Amanda is a good central character, not simply a carbon copy of her mother, but an individual in her own right. I hope we see more of her in the future.

In terms of other criticisms, I think a few sequences towards the end could have probably been cut, as it gets a little silly. Isolation also comes with a single map for its ‘Survivor Mode’ which plays like a surprisingly enjoyable ‘speed run’ mode. More maps will come as DLC. There’s also a couple of DLC missions based on events in the original film. Not exactly necessary for the main game, but great if you’re an Alien fan.

Oh, and did I mention the tension? I can’t remember the last time I played a game this tense. Isolation can be draining at times. There were moments I had to step away and take a break. One section in particular I just had to stop playing and take a breath. It’s horrible but also amazing. When the ordeal was finally over, it felt like a great relief. And yet, I wanted more.

Alien: Isolation initially struggled to win me over, but when it did, I was completely hooked. It’s an incredible piece of work and in many ways, it’s amazing it was made at all, given how risk-adverse AAA games have become. Isolation certainly isn’t going to be a game for everyone but I think a lot of people will come to adore it, despite its imperfections.