Monday, 24 July 2017

Now Playing: Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7 AKA Resident Evil 7: Biohazard AKA Resident Evil 7 biohazard / Biohazard 7 resident evil (seriously, someone fix that on Steam it’s f**king up my library), is that latest game in the long running horror/action series. But in many ways, RE 7 feels more like a reboot of the series than a direct continuation as it strips the series back to its survival horror roots. In terms of gameplay, story and structure, RE 7 has far more in common with the original Resident Evil than any of its predecessors.

I played the original RE upon release. I then played RE 2, but RE 3 I’m not entirely sure about – I think I played it but didn’t finish it. I also played Code: Veronica, RE 4, the GameCube RE remaster and RE 0. I haven’t played 5, 6 or any of the spin-off titles. So it’s been a long time since I had any real interest in the series and I honestly wasn’t sure about RE 7 either. I played the demo they released, but was rather underwhelmed. But when the game went on sale recently, I decided to give it a go. And I’m glad I did, because it’s pretty damn good.

You play as Ethan, a man with a remarkable tolerance for pain and seeing crazy shit. It’s kind of funny how not bothered he is by everything that’s going on. Ethan is searching for his missing wife upon a rural estate in Louisiana. It’s the home of the Baker family who serve as antagonist ‘boss’ style characters throughout the game.

The Baker family and your interactions with them are the real highlight of RE 7. They’re not just mindless, violent beasts. They speak to you, taunt you and inject real personality into the experience. It’s notable that once you’ve effectively ‘dealt’ with the Bakers that the game gets far less interesting.

RE 7 is a tricky game to review, because I really don’t want to spoil anything. Finding your wife and dealing with the Bakers is a big part of the game, but it’s not all the game is about. As you progress, more of the story is revealed – how the Bakers came to be like they are, the truth about how your wife came to be there, and where the f**k all that black goo came from – are explored and explained. The game does rely a little too heavily on expository documents towards the end to fill in the blanks but overall, it’s a fun and engaging story that should hook you until the end.

Unlike previous RE games, RE 7 is a first person experience and the first person view is used very effectively. It can be played in VR, and if I ever did get a VR set it’s something I’d love to play it with. But despite the change of perspective, RE 7 does feel a lot like the original game. It’s more of a pure survival horror than an action title.

Weapons, ammunition, health and inventory space are all limited. There are ‘safe’ rooms where you can save and use an item chest to store gear. Some items can be combined to create new items or more potent variations. It plays just like the original RE, only in first person. The map is split between different areas of the estate, with different key types required to access new areas. There are also classic RE style puzzles required to progress.

The game gets off to a fantastic start which is both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that it draws you into the experience from the go, but bad in the sense that it can’t maintain that momentum all the way through. RE 7 isn’t a very long game. I cleared it on Normal difficulty (the highest available when you start) in just under 8 hours – although I didn’t find all the documents, coins or bobblehead collectibles.

Despite its short run time, some parts of the game do feel a little padded, and as I’ve already said, once you deal with the Bakers it does get a little less interesting to play. The last 2-3 hours or so of RE 7 are rather weak compared to what came before. It’s still engaging and enjoyable to play, but it’s a shame the game can’t maintain the same quality throughout.

I don’t really want to get into specifics, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was expecting a new environment with its own challenges and puzzles to be introduced towards the end, similar to the original RE. But instead, the game feels rather rushed at the end as you’re stuck traversing some unimaginative and cheap looking caves.

Outside of the Baker family, RE 7 doesn’t really have much in the way of interesting creatures to fight. There are these ‘black goo’ monsters that pop up and which are initially quite threatening. But aside from a couple of variations of these monsters, there’s really nothing else. And when you’re pretty much done with the Bakers, the game relies entirely upon them. But the game just throws more and more of them at you to the point that they lose all sense of menace and just become kind of an annoyance.

There’s some replay value, at least in the sense that it’s fun to play and there are collectibles to find if you like that sort of thing. But the game is pretty linear and overly scripted in places, so there won’t be any new surprises. Even when the game asks you to make a choice, a choice you might expect would vary the last couple of hours a little, it turns out almost immediately to be entirely worthless.

The game also has some performance issues, with the frame rate regularly tanking for a few seconds when entering new areas. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s pretty irritating. Graphically it’s pretty good, but the exterior environments look a little shoddy. Sound design is great.

Despite my criticisms, Resident Evil 7 is a damn good game. Some parts of it are excellent, but it sadly runs out of steam before the end which feels hastily stitched together. It needed to be a little longer and offer more variety both in enemies and environments. It’s a little frustrating how close to great it is, but as a ‘reboot’ of the series, as a way of stripping RE back to its roots, I’d say it’s a massive success. Far from perfect, but well worth your time, and I’m certainly interested in what they’re going to do next.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Now Watching: Splice

Splice is a sci-fi horror film directed by Vincenzo Natali. It tells the story of two hilariously inept scientists – Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). Clive and Elsa create genetic hybrids for medical experimentation and exploitation, but when their corporate overlords threaten to derail their plans to introduce human DNA into the mix, they decide to do it anyway. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

To be fair, Clive actually says this, so at least the movie is somewhat self-aware. Their creation is kept a secret from their boss (Rodney McKay) and their colleagues, despite several dangerous situations that might cause harm to their creation, to themselves or to any poor f**k who wanders in by mistake. They name their creation Dren, which is also the slang for ‘shit’ in Farscape, so that kept me rather amused.

The film doesn’t get off to the greatest start with a lame SCIENCE MONTAGE as they attempt to add human DNA into their genetic cocktail. Several attempts fail for some unknown reason, before one attempt succeeds – for some unknown reason. They could have just had the first attempt succeed and not wasted so much of my time, but I guess we had to see them doing SCIENCE.

Eh, whatever. They succeed because the plot needs to move forward, and they keep being thick because the plot . . . actually the plot doesn’t really move much beyond this. Dren is created, we see her develop, and things just kind of meander along for the next 50 minutes or so.

Though the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, Splice does improve during this second act as we see Dren learn, evolve and grow. Delphine ChanĂ©ac, who plays the now ‘adult’ Dren brings a little life and personality to the role, which is more than can be said of Brody or Polley, who put in maybe . . . 40% effort? Or is that too generous? Seriously, some of their line delivery is terrible and hilarious.

In a shocking turn of events, things GO WRONG, although the film spoils its own ‘twist’ about 15 minutes before it occurs so it’s not exactly a surprise when it happens. The final act of Splice is a complete f**king mess. Despite a shoddy start, things do improve during the second act, but everything goes to garbage in the third. It gets dumb, so dumb that it’s embarrassing to watch.

By the time the credits roll you’ll just want to say ‘f**k you, Splice, you really wasted my time’. It’s disappointing, because there is some promise not only in the concept, but within the second act. Unfortunately, it’s entirely squandered and then destroyed by the third.

There’s potential with a sub-plot about Elsa’s mother and how Elsa was treated as a child – which in turn feeds into her treatment of Dren. Unresolved feelings, childhood trauma, the role of the Mother etc, etc . . . but it’s not properly incorporated or explored, nor does it lead anywhere.

Also not explored are the moral implications of their actions, so if you’re looking for a more thoughtful examination of ‘playing God’ then you won’t find it here. Instead, Splice just turns into a shitty monster movie with a poorly executed and stupid ending. Not recommended.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Now Playing: Tiberian Twilight

I’d heard the final Command & Conquer game – Tiberian Twilight – was bad. I didn’t expect it to be this bad. There’s no pretty way to put this. Tiberian Twilight is f**king garbage. It’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

I’ve never reviewed a game I didn’t finish, but I’m making an exception in this case. I made it through the opening missions of the GDI and NOD campaigns, but after only a few short hours, I’d seen enough. I had to stop. I closed the game and immediately uninstalled. All I could think was ‘what the f**k did I just play?’

Visually, Tiberian Twilight is a complete mess and easily the worst looking C&C game. The environments are sparse and bland, and the units look utterly terrible. They’re ugly and their animations are wonky as shit. Audio isn’t any better, with irritating music that you’ll rapidly be sick of. I knew something wasn’t right when I entered the settings menu and realised there was no option to rebind keys. How did this happen? Who thought this would be a good idea?

In terms of gameplay, Tiberian Twilight is dull, annoying, poorly balanced and the complete opposite of fun. Base building has been almost entirely stripped from the game. You now control a single MCV responsible for all unit and (very limited) building construction. The MCV comes in three types – Assault, Defence and Support – each of which grant access to a unique (and small) selection of units.

Whilst it’s possible to ‘delete’ your existing MCV and swap it for another of a different type, there’s little point in doing so due to the utterly baffling decision to introduce extremely restrictive unit limits. Every unit costs a varying number of command points, and there’s no way to increase these command points as you play. As a result, you’ll only ever be controlling 8-12 units at a time if you want a couple of higher tier units on the battlefield.

Combine these limits with units being locked behind the three different MCV options and you have what it may be the most tactically restrictive and boring ‘RTS’ game ever made. Why did they include these limits? What purpose do they serve?

Why not let us earn more command points as we play by capturing key structures – allowing us to expand our forces and introducing a new form of map control to the series? That would have made some kind of sense, even if it was a break from the more traditional RTS structure of previous C&C titles.

Why not allow us to call down multiple MCVs so we can mix unit types? There’s many ways that Tiberian Twilight could be ‘fixed’ into a somewhat competent title – perhaps not a traditional RTS, more a basic RTT. Instead, it doesn’t succeed at being either. It’s a complete failure on every level.

Missions are (at least the ones I played before I gave up) so simple yet so tedious. Some I completed in a matter of minutes to my utter confusion, whilst others dragged endlessly on as I slowly whittled the enemy down with my tiny unit squads. To say the game feels half-assed and unfinished would be an understatement.

The game is so poorly balanced that it’s a complete joke. There’s no strategy at play here. No resource collection either – you can just keep spamming units every time your command level drops. Oh, and unit path finding is also f**king terrible which makes units a nightmare to control.

If it isn’t entirely obvious, I absolutely hated what I played of Tiberian Twilight. It’s very, very rare that I’ll just give up on a game, especially after only a few short hours. But it really is that bad. I’m just going to pretend it never happened. I was going to play and review Command & Conquer: Generals alongside Twilight, but after this shit show, I’m totally burned out on RTS. Maybe in the future.


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Steam Summer Sale: Damage Report

Who needs to eat?

I didn’t expect to pick up much in this Summer Sale, but as is usually the case, I ended up spending far more than I intended to.

Resident Evil 7 was my first purchase, and at the time of writing I’ve already completed it twice, which should give you some indication of how much I liked it. Expect a full review soon.

With a taste of first person horror and a desire for more, I also decided to pick up the original Outlast. I’ve also already completed it, although I can’t say I enjoyed it half as much as RE 7. I really need to stop blasting through these games so quickly. At this rate, I’ll have finished them all before the sale is even over.

Next up was the new Prey. I’ve heard it compared to the System Shock games, and you know how much I love System Shock 2 so I just had to get it. I’d also heard a lot of good things about Hollow Knight and I liked the art style so I figured it was worth a go.

Nier: Automata is a game I intended to get at release, but the reported technical issues made me wait to see if they’d be fixed. It doesn’t seem like they have, so I was wary of picking this up, but it’s a game I really want to play. I’ve heard my GPU in particular – a 780 – has some serious issues with the game. If I find it’s unplayable, then I’ll just have to get a refund. I hope I can play it though, it looks pretty great.

After enjoying Endless Space 2 so much, I decided to give Endless Legend a go. I’ve never really enjoyed the Civilization games, despite trying a number of them, so I’m not sure I’ll like this either, but I’m willing to give it a try.

I also picked up a couple of pieces of DLC for Total War: Warhammer. Oh, and in the recent Origin sale I also bought the Ultimate Edition of Star Wars: Battlefront. It’s pretty fun, but I’m glad I didn’t pay more than 8 quid for it.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Now Playing: Blood Dragon

Far Cry: Blood Dragon is a standalone expansion to Far Cry 3. With a silly, 80s sci-fi / action themed story and characters, it’s a complete overhaul of FC3 – at least in terms of visuals, audio and narrative. You play as cyber-commando Rex Colt, on a mission to stop the evil Colonel Sloan from destroying the world. The story and characters of Blood Dragon are its real highlights, and Michael Biehn does a fantastic job voicing Colt. It’s ridiculous, over the top and frequently very funny.

Visually, Blood Dragon looks pretty good with bright, neon lighting and effects. It also sounds pretty good too with an 80s inspired synth soundtrack. But aside from visuals, audio and narrative, Blood Dragon, unfortunately, doesn’t really overhaul the gameplay of FC3.

Like FC3, you have a fairly large open map with multiple outposts to capture and secure. Each of these unlock side missions directly ripped from FC3 such as animal hunting and hostage rescues. If you’ve read my previous posts regarding FC3 and FC4, you’ll know I’m rather weary of the Far Cry ‘template’, and it’s a shame Blood Dragon adheres to it so closely.

Fortunately, you can ignore the outposts and side content entirely and focus purely on the main story missions. There’s only about 7 of these, with maybe 2-3 hours of play, but honestly, any longer and the joke would have likely worn rather thin.

The main missions are decent enough but once again, Blood Dragon is held back by its core FC3 gameplay, where using stealth and taking cover is the best way to go. I can’t help but feel that a more fast paced, linear style shooter would have been far more fitting for the style and narrative.

As a result, as fun as Blood Dragon may be in terms of story and visuals, it’s rather bland and by the numbers in terms of gameplay, with a disappointing selection of weapons and rather lacklustre combat. The main missions do their job, but there’s nothing particularly spectacular. The side content is dull, repetitive and best avoided entirely.

I wish I could be more positive about Blood Dragon. I do like the style and story, but it’s not that fun to actually play. Maybe if I wasn’t so tired of the Far Cry formula I would have enjoyed it more. I don’t really have anything else to say about it.

A fun plot, cool visuals, good audio and great VA aren’t enough to prop up what is essentially only 2-3 hours of mediocre gameplay. I got it for free and I’m still disappointed.