Thursday, 27 April 2017

Now Playing: Bayonetta 2

I said in my Bayonetta review that ‘it doesn’t get much better than this’. I was wrong. It does get better, and by ‘better’ I mean Bayonetta 2. As fantastic as I thought the original Bayonetta was, it wasn’t a perfect game. Graphically, it was a little rough in places and the frame rate would take the occasional hit.

The camera could prove awkward during some battles, particularly some of the larger boss battles. Oh, and by far the worst aspect of Bayonetta was the rather unforgiving and pointless insta-death QTEs. Even playing through the original twice on 360 and once on Wii U, these moments still catch me out. I really don’t like them at all.

Bayonetta 2 fixes all of these issues. The frame rate is rock solid. The camera is always perfectly placed. Graphically, it’s very polished, and they removed the QTE nonsense entirely. But not only did they completely fix my issues with the original game, they even improved upon nearly every aspect of the original.

Visually, Bayonetta 2 is stunning. Whereas the original was more dark and dour, the sequel is bright and vibrant. There’s more variety to environments and enemy design, all of which look absolutely amazing. Bayonetta 2 is one of the most graphically engaging titles you’ll ever play. As for the music, it’s all pretty good, but I do think Bayonetta 1 had a stronger overall soundtrack. If there’s one thing Bayo 1 did do better, it’s that.

The combat, of course, is the most important element of Bayonetta 2. I adored the combat of the original so much that I didn’t want some fights to end. And yet, they’ve actually improved upon the combat in some small, but very important ways.

The combat of Bayonetta 2 feels refined to perfection. It feels more fluid, with smoother transitions between combos, dodges and animations. The controls feel more tight and responsive. It’s hard to say exactly why it feels better – it just does. I can’t be sure, but I do wonder if they’ve made the timing for dodge and combo inputs slightly more forgiving, giving you an extra half a second or so to pull them off.

As a result, Bayonetta 2 does also feel quite a bit easier than the original did, at least on the default Normal difficulty. But I don’t see this as a bad thing, as these tweaks do make combat feel even more fluid, responsive and enjoyable.

This is also a result of a far better camera. Even during the larger fights, the camera sensibly sweeps back and forth to give you the most appropriate angle. Unlike the original, you won’t be taking cheap hits because you couldn’t quite see what was coming.

Like the original, Bayonetta 2 features multiple weapons, each with their own attack style. You can combine them to create your own preferred style and switch between custom sets on the fly, giving an incredible variety to fights and a fantastic degree of replay value. You can also unlock new characters to play. In fact, there’s so much to unlock in Bayonetta 2 it’s kind of ridiculous – new weapons, a varied range of combat modifiers, new moves, characters and outfits.

The main story mode will take roughly 8-10 hours to complete, but there’s a great degree of replay value through its different difficulty modes, collectible items and, as I’ve said, the ability to play as other characters with different weapons and attack styles. There’s also a ‘trials’ mode you’ll unlock once you complete the story.

Oh, and they also included a new ‘tag climax’ mode which is an interesting mix of co-op and competitive play as you fight alongside – but also compete against – either an AI or human companion through a series of challenging fights.

One thing I think you could argue the original did a little better is story. The original has a surprisingly emotional aspect to it which is a little lacking in the sequel. But I don’t think the sequel really needed to retread the same narrative ground. The story of Bayonetta 2 expands on the world and characters in a wonderful way.

It takes Bayonetta, quite literally, to hell and back. Purely as an excuse to showcase an even greater variety of environments and enemies, it’s pretty damn good. I also thoroughly enjoyed the trip through time, which cleverly ties together and expands upon various aspects of the original story.

Bayonetta 2 is one of the few games that I think comes close to being truly perfect. But I’m not giving it a 10/10. Why? Because there’s one thing that disappointed me, and that was the music – or lack of a particular track, should I say.

At no point in Bayonetta 2 does the fantastic Bayonetta 1 cover of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ play. I was waiting for it the entire game, but it never came. If that track had kicked in during the final phase of the final boss we’d have my first perfect 10/10 game. But it didn’t! Oh, and no final dance number?! So close, Bayonetta 2! So close!


Friday, 21 April 2017

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Now Playing: The Wind Waker HD

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was originally released on the GameCube in 2003. Spin on 10 years, and Nintendo released a HD remaster of WW for the Wii U, which is the version I’m going to be reviewing. It’s an important distinction to make, because the Wii U remaster doesn’t only overhaul the graphical quality of the original, but also includes alterations and additions to various aspects of gameplay.

I played WW on release and it quickly became one of, if not my favourite of the Zelda games. Does this HD remaster do the original game justice? Do the changes they’ve made improve the experience or weaken it?

Honestly, it’s hard to say. It’s been over 10 years since I played the GC version, and whilst I remembered quite a bit of the original going into this remaster, there was a lot I totally forgot about.

Also, in the years since WW released, numerous other games, including new Zelda titles, have arrived and improved on many aspects of what WW did right . . . and not so right. It was always going to be strange playing WW immediately following Breath of the Wild, because BotW was such a radical departure from the Zelda ‘formula’ that WW so rigidly adheres to.

Has the open freedom of BotW made previous Zelda games seem less . . . good? I don’t think so, but I don’t think you can ignore the impact it’s had on the series as a whole, both past and future. Because although WW does adhere to a very rigid and linear structure of progression, that’s not really my issue with it. No, it’s not the strict, structured progression that’s the problem, but rather how the game handles it.

Something I didn’t remember about the original game was how easy the whole thing is. We get off to a rather slow start as the game walks you through an extended tutorial segment. The problem is, it never really stops walking you through the content. The game will always tell you exactly where to go and what to do.

There’s no real challenge to the game. There’s no sense of mystery, of figuring things out on your own. The solution to the dungeon puzzles are all too obvious, as are the patterns to the boss fights. The Wind Waker is easy, which isn’t itself a serious issue, it’s more that it’s insultingly easy.

The world of WW is a fairly large open ocean broken down into individual tiles, each with its own unique island. But only a handful of these islands are particularly substantial or important. And until you progress far enough to unlock various items, the majority of these islands won’t even be accessible.

If you’re playing Wind Waker, you really need to follow the main quest because there’s very little point to exploration until you’ve unlocked all of the main items. It’s also far more enjoyable to explore once you do, because without abilities such as the fast travel system, or the new HD addition of the ‘upgraded’ sail, it’s rather tedious getting about.

There is side content in WW, but very little of it is advertised and none of it is tracked. There’s some good stuff to be found, but you really need to seek it out. And whilst many of the islands in the game aren’t very important or offer any substantial content, they do nearly always contain a treasure to collect or a puzzle to solve, making your exploration feel worthwhile.

And it’s important to note that whilst I dislike how heavily WW walks you through its core content, and how easy it is, that doesn’t mean the core content is bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty good. All of the dungeons were fun to complete. Each was unique visually, but also in terms of enemies, puzzles and bosses.

Each dungeon had its own ‘theme’, usually based around a particular puzzle mechanic or key item. And each featured its own unique boss with a unique pattern to defeat. They’re all pretty clever, even if they’re not particularly challenging. In this respect, WW has far more entertaining and interesting dungeons than BotW.

And I did enjoy a return to that sense of mechanical progression that BotW somewhat lacked. Each dungeon gave me something new. Something that opened up the world just a little more. The problem WW has though, is that whereas BotW didn’t gate its content at all, WW gates its content too heavily.

You can never really shake the feeling that the game is just walking you through everything, step by step. And this is even more apparent in this HD remaster when it comes to your final main quest prior to facing Ganon. It involves tracking down eight shards of the triforce.

In the GC original, you had to first track down a sea chart for each, pay for each chart to be deciphered, and then find the islands where the pieces were located. But a lot of people apparently didn’t like this, which is why they altered the quest in this remaster so that only three of the pieces require a chart. The rest it just tells you exactly where to find them.

I can see why people would prefer this change, but it kind of bothers me. I don’t recall having any issue with the way the quest was handled originally. In fact, I remember quite liking that stage of the game. With all my key items unlocked, I could now explore the ocean as I pleased, taking my time with each chart until I discovered every shard.

But now the game practically just gives them to you, without any real work. I can see why many may dislike the original version of this quest and may find it tedious and slow, but I’m just not sure the way they handle it in this remaster is the best possible solution.

Graphically, this remaster looks fantastic. Link in this game is so damn expressive. It is, overall, a more light hearted affair, with more humour and silly characters and situations than some of the other Zelda games, but it can be serious when it needs to.

In fact, the story of WW is very good, and I really like the way it plays upon a previous game in the series, as well as how it handles both Zelda herself and especially Ganon. Here, Ganon isn’t just a giant smoke monster, but an actual character. And when you reach the end of the game and learn about what happened in the past and why the world is the way it is, you can almost sympathise with the bastard.

I also really like the ending, which is both bitter sweet, but also hopeful for the future. Oh, and your final fight against Ganon is a lot of fun with what may be best delivered final blow in the entire series.

Some other minor irritations I have to mention are the dodgy auto-jump which doesn’t always work exactly the way you want. You may, for example, just want to drop down from a ledge, but instead Link decides to take a flying, suicidal leap. The game does have some unfortunate frame rate issues. It really tanks whenever you get a few ships firing cannons at the same time.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a good remaster of a good game, but I can’t really shake the feeling that I enjoyed the original more. I don’t know if that’s because of the changes they’ve made, or simply because Zelda, as a series, has evolved and improved since. Even so, WW is still a lot of fun to play. Sailing across that open ocean remains as enjoyable today as it did all those years ago.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Tiberian Sun vs. Red Alert 2

Tiberian Sun is the sequel to the original Command and Conquer, continuing the story of the GDI/NOD conflict. It’s set in a bleak future in a world ravaged by the spread of tiberian – perfectly reflected in the game through its gloomy environments and sound.

Despite the incredibly cheesy live action cut scenes, this is a far more sombre and serious title than the original in terms of story, visuals and gameplay. It has a very different look and feel compared to C&C, and not just because of its new isometric camera view.

The atmosphere is fantastic. The maps are murky and … dirty. This is a world where tiberian won, not NOD or GDI. Cities are in a state of ruin. Bridges are collapsed. Ion storms cause havoc with technology.

And now we have a third faction to contend with – the mutants. Known as ‘The Forgotten’ these are people who have been exposed to tiberian and mutated as a result. They appear during both NOD and GDI campaigns as either enemies or allies.

Unlike the first C&C, you’re not playing as a faceless commander, but as two named characters. For GDI you’re the ultimate badass ‘McNeil’ played by a bored looking Michael Biehn. For NOD, you’re ‘Slavik’ who is a hardcore Kane groupie and always does as he’s told which doesn’t make him particularly interesting.

The story is a little disjointed, with cut-scenes not always following on logically from the actual missions. I’m assuming this is because they began filming the cut-scenes before they’d fully planned the actual campaigns. It results in a strange disconnect between some of the live action scenes and some of the subsequent missions.

There are entirely new units and buildings in Tiberian Sun, although many are based on those in the original in an upgraded form. Several units have secondary functions, such as the Nod tank that can dig itself into a hole to become a fixed and partially shielded cannon emplacement.

Like the first game, GDI units tend to be more slow, powerful and expensive, whilst the NOD units are cheap, fast and weak. Unfortunately, like the first game, it’s also far easier and more efficient to simply spam a couple of unit types in order to win. Unit balance certainly isn’t a strong point. Thankfully, Tiberian Sun does a far better job of providing variety throughout its missions.

It also provides a degree of player choice, with optional missions to undertake that will impact the ‘main’ mission to a limited degree, such as destroying a small supply base in order to prevent reinforcements during your main assault. There’s also more what you might call ‘mini-missions’ which don’t revolve around base building, but using a limited number of units to complete a specific objective.

I’ve never been a great fan of these types of missions in RTS, as they tend to devolve into a lot of ‘save scum’ because every unit is too valuable to lose. You end up exploring the hidden map to see what’s ahead and then reload until you find the ‘safe’ path to your objective. Not terribly exciting, and Tiberian Sun has a little too many missions like this for my taste.

But overall, I did enjoy the campaigns, probably the GDI campaign more than NOD because Slavik was such a dull git. The unit variety is decent, even if you’ll rarely make full use of it. The visuals are nice. The story is a little weak but Kane is always fun to watch. Tiberian Sun is better than the original. It’s a solid and enjoyable RTS, but I’d rate it as good rather than great.

Red Alert 2 is generally regarded as the best of the Command Conquer franchise. It’s the game that shifted the tone of the Red Alert series away from sombre and serious into over the top and silly, creating a clear distinction between it and the GDI/NOD games.

This is reflected in both its story and gameplay. It’s bright, colourful and extremely enjoyable to play. The faction rosters are excellent, offering a diverse range of units ranging from the expected soldiers and tanks, to the rather more fanciful psychics and giant squids. The soviets certainly get the best toys which makes their campaign the most fun.

That said, I do prefer the allies campaign in terms of story. Because the allies get Tanya and as much as I like RA1 Tanya, the Tanya of RA2 is easily best Tanya.

In terms of graphics, sound and animation, RA2 still looks and sounds fantastic. The missions offer a decent variety of maps and objectives. Unit balance is pretty good. If I had one main complaint about Red Alert 2, it would be its length.

Several missions, particularly in the allies campaign, can be completed in as little as 8-10 minutes. Red Alert 2 is faster paced than the original – which is something I like – but it does result in missions that end rather abruptly. It really would have benefited by having more multi-objective missions and maps that expand when certain objectives are met.

Some of the maps feel quite small and it’s far too easy to spam and rush your way to victory. If you’re playing Red Alert 2, you really need to play it with its excellent expansion – Yuri’s Revenge – otherwise it may feel a little short and unsatisfying.

I don’t have much more to say about Red Alert 2. It’s easily one of, if not the best game in the Command and Conquer series with great story, graphics, sound and excellent gameplay. Just be sure to play it with its expansion. Up next? Tiberium Wars versus Red Alert 3.

Tiberian Sun – 7/10
Red Alert 2– 8/10