Friday, 26 September 2014

Total War: Attila

With the announcement of Total War: Attila and release of the Emperor Edition, I figured it was about time to return to Rome 2. It was my most anticipated title last year, but also the most disappointing. Has the game improved? I’ll be posting my updated impressions in the near future.

As for Attila, what little I’ve seen looks promising, and it’s clear the developers have taken criticism on board from Rome 2, notably when it comes to UI elements and features. With the talk of a ‘survival-strategy’ experience, it may play out very differently to a usual TW campaign. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Now Playing: Flashback

Flashback, originally released way back in 1992, is a platform/adventure game. You play as Conrad B. Hart, a guy with a cool name who uncovers an alien infiltration of Earth serving as a prelude to invasion. It’s a mixture of platform, adventure, combat and puzzles all rolled into one.

The first thing that strikes you about Flashback, even today, are the fantastic animated cinematic scenes. In fact, graphically, Flashback holds up very well despite its age, largely thanks to the art direction and style. It has some lovely, detailed and varied environments.

The second thing that impresses you, just as much today as it did upon release, is the animation. Seriously, this game has better animation than some modern games do. The range of movement and combat animations for Conrad is fantastic. Enemy animations are also very good, especially the goo-alien guys who slop about the platforms and ceilings.

There are six levels in all (although the last is broken down into three sections), and they are all generally well designed and enjoyable to play, the only exception being Level 3, which is, frankly, a bit pants. Every level introduces a new environment and challenges to face. The game also introduces a few new mechanics as you progress, most impressively the teleportation device, which is neatly incorporated into the platform and puzzle elements.

Combat is a bit basic. You can crouch, roll and use a personal shield. It’s nothing fancy but it does the job and, thanks to the animations, it just looks bloody cool. The game isn’t too punishing, with save points placed at strategic locations throughout the levels, but there are three difficulty settings to choose from, and the hardest will certainly give you a decent challenge. The music in the game is decent, with some nice sound effects.

So what about the negatives? Well, it can feel a little cheap at times, such as placing a disintegration trap directly behind a screen load. There are also at least a couple of areas where you can unwittingly ‘lock’ yourself out of progressing, forcing you to restart. The last level can get a little tedious, and there’s two very, very irritating design (I assume?) choices that will leave you stumped and angry.

The first concerns a door, a door you will spend a long time playing with switches to open, only to discover that shooting it somehow causes it to unlock. This doesn’t work on any other door in the game, just this one, and it looks no different to the rest.

The second thing is the ‘hidden’ lift right at the very end. It’s on the very last screen which you reach and expect to escape, except nothing happens. You need to use a lift to escape but the problem is, the lift is all but invisible, completely merged with the background scenery making it impossible to see, and unless you trigger it by accident you’d never even know it was there. These aren’t exactly game breaking issues, because persistence and/or frustration (or an online guide) will eventually see you through, but they remain bloody annoying.

Overall though, Flashback was still an enjoyable ride from start to finish, and it holds up remarkably well today. It’s not a very long game and you can clear it in about 5 hours or so. There was a remake of the game released a few years ago, but what footage I’ve seen of it looks terrible. Stick with the original. It’s fine as it is.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Remember Me (Part 1)

When I picked up Remember Me in a sale recently I can’t honestly say I was expecting much from it. I certainly wasn’t expecting one of the most gorgeous looking games I’ve played this year. As a result, I ended up with a ton more shots than I’d need for the review. But rather than just discard them all, I thought I’d showcase them instead. Here’s Part 1 -

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Now Playing: Last Light

I can’t say I was the biggest fan of Metro: 2033. I thought it was a solid first person shooter, but aside from its setting, atmosphere and a few minor touches here and there relating to its unique weapons and the way it handled the UI, I wasn’t all that taken with it. It was short, very linear and, in terms of story, it became increasingly muddled. Towards the end it felt like several scenes were cut.

Ultimately, 2033 struggled to make me care. It nailed the setting, but not the characters of the world, many of whom appeared only fleetingly. But wait, I’m not supposed to be reviewing 2033 again. I suppose the question is, does Metro: Last Light address the issues I had with 2033?

For the most part, I’d say it does. Last light excels at building a living, believable world. Once again it creates an immersive and atmospheric setting, but this time we get to know some of the people who inhabit it a little better. The story is far more cohesive, taking the player on a tour of a variety of dangerous locations and situations.

It introduces characters who actually stick around for a time and play their own roles within the story. Unlike 2033, I actually cared about what was going on, and this was largely thanks to the more developed characters. Okay, so there’s nothing particularly outstanding about it, but compared to the first game it’s definitely a step up in the story and character department.

Like 2033, Last Light is a great looking game, and I was pleased to see the same neat UI features carry over, at least on certain difficulty settings. Speaking of difficulty though, playing the game on Ranger Hardcore was surprisingly easy thanks to the extremely forgiveable stealth system. You can sneak your way through entire sections without alerting a single enemy.

There’s certainly more emphasis on stealth in Last Light than in 2033. You can still take a guns blazing approach if you wish, but taking down an entire room of bad guys silently is always satisfying, even though it can be way too easy.

One thing Last Light also does better than 2033 is its exterior environments. They are more expansive and grant the player far more scope to explore and scavenge. I was a bit disappointed though by the somewhat limited enemy types, particularly the mutants. Like 2033, Last Light suffers the same issue that the creature combat just isn’t as engaging as fighting against human opponents.

Most of the mutants just follow the same charge and attack pattern. It’s not very interesting. Human bad guys at least have a few tricks up their sleeves, such as flanking, calling for reinforcements, taking cover and throwing grenades. It’s nothing spectacular, but it does the job.

I have to be honest and say that Last Light initially struggled to win me over. The first quarter or so is chopped up into lots of quite small, extremely linear levels, many of which feature ‘roller-coaster’ moments where you just sit back and watch an action set piece play out. It can be a bit irritating, but fortunately, it’s an issue that quickly begins to fade after a certain point.

Last Light, although longer than 2033, can still be cleared in about 12 hours or so. I’d say it has a little more replay value though, and the DLC packs that come with the GOTY edition do add quite a bit of decent additional content to play through.

So Last Light is certainly an improvement over 2033, but there’s still plenty of areas where it could be improved further. Overall though, if you’re looking for an immersive and enjoyable shooter, you really can’t go wrong with it.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Wizard of Wor

I’m not sure if Wizard of Wor was my first videogame, but it’s certainly the first I remember getting hooked on. I think the primary reason was that it was one of only two cartridge based games I had for my C64. There was no arduous 20 minute tape deck loading (usually resulting in a crash, followed by another 20 minute load). It was plug and play, no fuss. It was also bloody addictive.

It was originally released as an arcade game in 1981 before being ported to various home systems. You play as a blue or yellow ‘worrior’ trapped in a dungeon maze with various nasty creatures which want to eat you. Fortunately, you’re armed with a laser gun which makes a very satisfying POWPOW! sound when fired.

As you progress through each maze, you’ll be confronted by different enemy types, including some which can become invisible or teleport. Each stage ends with the chance to take down a ‘Worluk’ or the Wizard himself and double your score on the next level. It’s simple, but effective, with some cool sound effects and music.

But the best thing about the game is that it can (and really should) be played in co-op with another person. And as the dungeons get harder, the monsters faster and more deadly, you’ll need someone with you if you want to survive. The interesting thing about the co-op aspect though, is that friendly fire is possible, so a misplaced shot will result in the loss of a precious life. In fact, killing the other player can boost your own score.

This can result in a lot of petty retaliation as you shoot your team mate in the back ‘by accident’, resulting in the game becoming a death match as you try to kill each other whilst avoiding the monsters. I remember many games which began as an attempt to progress by working together, only to devolve into a vicious battle to the death.

I still have my C64 safely boxed away along with my copy of Wizard of Wor. Of all the games I played on that system, it’s the one I remember the most. Simple, effective and addictive fun.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Now Playing: Jet Set Radio Future

With no sign of a HD update on the horizon, I decided it was finally time to dust off my old X-Box and play through my original copy of Jet Set Radio Future. I was somewhat concerned that after enjoying the updated JSR, playing an original version JSRF just wouldn’t look very good by comparison. But thanks to a fantastic art style, it’s amazing how incredible JSRF still looks today, even without the HD sheen.

The environments of JSRF are much larger than in JSR. You’ll recognise many of the same locations from JSR, but they are now expanded with additional areas, grind/trick routes and far more verticality. There are also several new areas, offering a nice variety of locations and challenges. The way the areas are connected is also new in JSRF, as your Garage acts as a central hub from which you can access and travel to the various sections of the city.

JSRF isn’t exactly a sequel to JSR, more a remake. You’ll encounter a lot of the same characters you did in JSR, updated in one way or another, and there are parallels between the stories of both games, but things play out a little differently. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other in terms of characters and story, they’re about on par.

One thing I do think JSRF beats JSR at though is the soundtrack. It’s a fantastic mix, and this is certainly one area where JSRF has the edge over its predecessor. So it looks great and sounds great, but how does it play? And how does it compare to JSR?

There are two major differences in the way these two games play. The first thing is the graffiti mechanics. In JSR, you’d have to perform a series of control stick motions to spray graffiti. This gave it a more ‘hands-on’ feeling, but it could also slow the pace of the game, causing it to be a little stop-start. In JSRF, you spray automatically simply by holding down a trigger. This means you have a far more fluid experience of movement through the environment, as you never really need to stop as you pass by graffiti marks.

Personally, I’m a little torn between the two systems, as they both have their positives and negatives, and I have the same problem with the other major change – time limits. In JSR, each level has a set time. This puts you under a degree of pressure and leaves you with little time to simply explore and enjoy the level. In JSRF, there are no time limits, meaning you can explore for as long as you see fit. Once again, I’m torn between the two systems. Although I appreciate the freedom of JSRF (especially given the larger environments) it does make it all a little easy, and the pressure of the time limit in JSR made completing each level (with a rating) a little more satisfying.

Speaking of difficulty, JSRF does feel quite a bit easier and more forgiving than JSR, and it does lack the various additional challenges of JSR, such as the races and tag battles. Well, that’s not exactly true, as these elements are in the game, they are simply not incorporated in the same manner. Personally, I prefer the way JSR had the option to select the various modes for each level.

Aside from the time limits and the graffiti mechanics though, JSRF plays much the same as JSR, although the controls feel a little tighter, making it easier to navigate the environments. And those environments are wonderful, colourful and full of detail. Just like JSR, JSRF is a joy to play, look at and listen to.

When I reviewed JSR HD I mentioned how I thought JSRF was a better overall game, but now I’m not so sure. I find myself torn between the two, as both offer slightly different styles of play. I’m actually leaning more towards JSR now as the superior game, but it’s a very, very close one to call. JSR I feel has more replay value in terms of the score attack aspect, but JSRF is a bigger, longer game with more to see and do. What really matters though is that both of these games are bloody fantastic. I really hope we see a HD update of JSRF, because it damn well deserves one.