Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

AVOIDTony Hawks Pro Skater HD

Tony Hawk Pro Skate HD Case

Developer: Robomodo

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3PC

 

Tony who? Tony Stark? T Hawk? Oh, you mean the aging, 900 degree-spinning, lanky-legged, commercial face of skateboarding Mr Tony Hawk? The birdman himself – he really did grow into his beak…

Tony Hawk Child

Talk about a Nose Slide….

Ok, so maybe I won’t be asked to perform a eulogy at his funeral.

Forgive the rather harsh introduction, I actually have a lot of love for the skate veteran. Undoubtedly the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater titles helped to shape what has become a real interest in skateboarding. A combination of simple, frantic skating, and quirky somewhat ridiculous tasks, the original titles were immediately accessible and importantly, had real replayability. Moreover, the reward of short FMV clips displaying real skate footage of the in game characters is a brilliant bonus; it felt like an actual achievement, something worth working towards. Unfortunately, the franchise has made significant transitions throughout the many iterations over the years, including the infamous Underground series which made a slight stab at enhanced realism.

But now we go backwards, delving into the past, with the new Xbox Arcade release of Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD. It brings with it nostalgia, excited memories and… disappointment.

In age of ever increasing media entertainment realism, Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD simply doesn’t work. That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for arcade fun – this just isn’t it. It looks pretty, the controls are as smooth as ever and gameplay is simple. The problem is that it just isn’t as enjoyable as the original versions. Playing the demo repeatedly for an hour, I tried to put my finger on the central issue and I think it’s probably the speed of your skater.  There is patently too much pace, far more than was present in older games, which entirely damages the gameplay. Furthermore, the Warehouse level you are given to play is too compact to effectively manage this increased speed, causing you to overshoot and destroying your lines. It doesn’t help that the demo play time is a measly one minute thirty, despite the in game timer displaying two minutes – the typical objectives (like collecting ‘S-K-A-T-E’) are memorable but provide no gratification whatsoever when there is so little time to complete any more than one task. Perhaps this was intended as offering a tempting teaser, or possibly an exciting challenge. I just see it as a restrictive removal of freedom inducing a sense of linearity.

The one saving grace is the incredible soundtrack, comprising tons of songs from the original games, including ‘Superman’ by Goldfinger and Millencolin’s ‘No Cigar’. Yet, even the great audio accompaniment is not enough to save the game from inevitable obscurity. Jump back on Skate instead, or why not dust off the original Tony Hawks titles?

DOWNLOAD: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead XBox Case

Developer: Terminal Reality

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3PC

 

Zombies, zombies everywhere and not a brain to… use.

While the gaming industry is known for regularly jumping on the bandwagon of a successful genre/theme, only to rattle out tired, ill-thought titles while it’s the ‘in’ thing (I swear I’ve sneezed longer than AVP had dev time), games featuring zombies are refreshingly sparse.

Ok, perhaps sparse isn’t the right word but they’re certainly kept to the realm of sporadic, good quality titles – Resident Evil, Left For Dead, Dead Rising, Dead Island and now, The Walking Dead.

I’m always troubled when games are being adapted from cult television, cinema or literary hits. Inevitably there is going to be something lacking when the original source is already held with such high esteem. Few adaptations have ever produced something that mirrors the original, or more importantly, something that is fresh and reinvigorates it.

The Walking Dead manages this with aplomb. Now on it’s third instalment, the series is well into it’s cycle, receiving top reviews and celebration despite the slightly hefty price tag (400 ms points per instalment).

Though I haven’t read the books, I have dabbled in the graphic novels and I love the television series. The Walking Dead game has managed to capture the same sense of desperation, the same empathy and emotional connection to protagonists seen in the original source.

Though the series initially appears fairly pricey, the cost is entirely justified. Each instalment is extremely replayable, supported by a game mechanic that ensures you are the driving force behind progression. The primary feature of The Walking Dead is a decision system whereby you must choose a particular action or verbal response, often in a limited time frame (choices are set up as QTEs, much like Scene It, without the annoying fucking announcer). These immediate choices force you to really consider the outcome of your actions, making your own thought process and planning essential, elements often overlooked in zombie titles. Most zombie-themed action games are pretty brainless, beyond the need to conserve ammo and health. Violence and head-exploding action seem to always come to the forefront, with relationships and the contextual impact upon them treated very superficially, or even entirely overlooked. Furthermore, having various ultimatums thrust unexpectedly in your face engenders a fervent desire to replay the game, deliberately choosing alternating options in order to examine the impact they will have. The Walking Dead is hugely replayable because of this, boosted by statistical comparisons at the end of each installment – once a chapter is completed you are presented with a screen detailing what decisions you made throughout and how this compares to other gamers.

In the interests of balance, the negatives. The game perhaps feels a little linear at times, though this is in the very nature of what it’s trying to achieve. It’s not a sandbox or an rpg, it’s a simple action title that wants you to feel trapped and claustrophobic. Puzzles aren’t the most difficult that you’re going to find in a game, but they don’t need to be. The story is so engrossing and you are so engaged by the decision making process that you genuinely feel your choices have an impact on the outcome of each instalment. This feeling imbeds you right in the centre of the story, a rare occurrence these days.

The Walking Dead, download it now. Because a skateboard would be useless in a zombie apocalypse, Dead Rising taught me so.

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AVOID: Binary Domain

Binary Domain Box Xbox 360Developer: SEGA

Publisher: SEGA

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

 

With some impressive titles under their extensive belts, games developers SEGA bring you a new third person shooter in the form of
Binary Domain. The trouble is, it’s just not worth playing.

As shooters go, the concept is interesting. You play a team of future soldiers attempting to rescue Tokyo from a 2080 robotic invasion. That’s where the intrigue ends.

Why? Because it’s Gears of War 4. Everything about this game reeks of Epic’s renowned sci fi shooter series. Binary Domain has exploited various features directly from the franchise, including the cover system, roady run, weapon inventory menu, blindfiring, bleed outs, grenade animation and the hilarious quota filling found in the core team (White American? Check. Huge Black guy? Check. Woman? Check). Now although these features are staples of most third person shooters (ok, perhaps ignore the last one), the way they look and function in Binary Domain is unequivocally Gears-esque. This is entirely unforgivable considering how acclaimed Gears of War is, and undoubtedly SEGA is aware of this.

The robotic enemies are interesting, though I found myself becoming tired of them just in the demo, and the ‘Trust’ system which affects your team mates’ obeying of orders has the potential for being a unique addition. It’s just not enough though.

I applaud SEGA for giving you two playable levels, it’s generous of them. Ironically, it’s worked completely against them however. The first level plays well, it’s engaging and almost, ALMOST, exciting. This is as a result of the pace and variety of action that awaits you. Then you play the second level and this all goes out the window. Binary Domain suddenly becomes tedious and unadventurous, just another mediocre shooter.

Binary Domain. It’s tired, it’s been done before. It’s Gears of War. Save yourself the time and just play the original.

DOWNLOAD: Minecraft 360 Edition

Minecraft 360 Box Xbox 360Developer: Mojang, 4J Studios

Publisher: Mojang

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC

 

Minecraft is a creative triumph, offering glorious respite from a gaming market saturated with guns, blood and an ever-increasing sense of linear realism.

After the cult success of Minecraft for PC in 2011 (as well as for iOS and Android), developer Mojang has caved in to consumer demand and released a version for Xbox Live Arcade. The Swedish developer, fronted by creative genius Markus ‘Notch’ Perrson, worked in conjunction with Scottish devs 4J Studios (also responsible for XBLA ports of Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark) to make the transition to the Microsoft console. Importantly, Notch has stated publicly that the game will only be available for Xbox 360 as a console platform.

Though I’m sure you have some idea about what the game entails from the massive publicity or the interesting merchandise, I’ll give a brief description. Essentially it’s a sandbox creation game, allowing the player to forge his own world out of pixel-like 3D cubes. You must investigate your surroundings, mine resources, create buildings, tools, weapons and all manner of luxury items in order to sustain yourself. Along the way you’ll also need to protect your character and your constructions from monsters of the night who threaten to attack you and everything you’ve built. The game really is what you make of it.

Though Minecraft 360 Edition is currently based on an earlier Beta version of the PC release, there are some interesting additions including 4 player split screen, 8 person online multiplayer, Kinect functionality, and a comprehensive in game tutorial, notably lacking from the original.

The inclusion of this tutorial is vital for your first jaunt into the world of Minecraft. It explains the basics of mining resources, your inventory, and combining materials to generate new ones. After completing it you feel sufficiently prepared to release those creative juices, especially in the completion of your house – you’ll see stolen beds and fences all over the shop! The tutorial is enjoyable, slowly learning the game mechanics in a manner of structured guidance that also affords you some creative freedom; you can mine as much wood as you like, and explore the small opening area for the entire demo if you so choose.

However, the real wonder of Minecraft is revealed when the tutorial is completed, as you exit the miner’s house into a beautiful open landscape. The tutorial felt somewhat like looking out into the world through a keyhole, but suddenly the player gets a significant glimpse into the actual scope of the game. No spoilers, but what you see really captures your imagination about what can be created and across what sort of expanse (that miner’s house you developed and were pretty proud of? Well yeah, now it looks like a bungalow in Hackney). From this point on you are aware of Minecraft‘s true majesty, and you cannot help but be completely enthralled by it. Until the short demo runs out that is…

… but then you play it again! I myself played the trial three times straight off the bat, my appetite whet for exploring this foreign land. The combination of limited demo time and the gradual exposure of the picturesque landscape successfully engages your curiosity, demanding that you play again to discover what you may have missed the first time round. It’s been a long time since I’ve replayed a demo so excitedly, forming an ideal mindset for future purchase.

Games like Minecraft 360 Edition are few and far between. Make sure you at least try this one out!

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Banner

With trepidation I hesitate to admit that I’ve racked up an unhealthy 13 days on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer. Though this is likely to figure me as a target of ridicule (from Battlefield fanboy’s and the general populace alike), I still play it now. MW2’s multiplayer is wonderfully addictive; the varied maps are pleasantly spread across long and short range maps, they’re well designed and perfectly suited for facst-paced shooting action. It was flawless…. well, Commando aside.

With this is mind, I pre-ordered the Elite edition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, eager to get my hands on what I entirely expected to be the next big waste of my life. It sold for a pricey £90, but knowing that it included access to all three DLC drops (all of which I purchased for Modern Warfare 2) and a yearly subscription to the Call of Duty Elite service, my fears were suitably assuaged.

How wrong I was.

So far I’ve racked up a measly 20 hours, my FPS addiction preferably satiated by the superior Battlefield 3. So where did it all go wrong?

Experimentation is the key. Rarely do I chastise a franchise for experimenting with a system that, let’s be honest, is a little stale. However, when reinventing a series that is so well-established, and loved, it’s vital to ensure that developers inject some new life whilst maintaining the key features that initiated success in the first place. This is where Activision let the ball, rather the grenade, drop.

For me it comes down to two key failings:

– General game design, and

– A misguided attempt to mimic the market opponent Battlefield.

Essentially, maps are poorly designed. The selection is far too limited, tailored singularly for close combat. Yet conversely, Activision have implemented new features that are more suited to the team-based range warfare of titles like Battlefield 3. The addition of a three tier Strike Package – formerly known as Killstreak Rewards – only serves to confuse a game that was celebrated for its simplicity. Whilst Modern Warfare 2 plainly offered offensive rewards for an achieved killstreak (including the likes of Predator Missiles, Sentry Guns and Pave Lows, now found in the Assault Strike Package), players now have the option of instead selecting from the Support or Specialist Strike Packages. Though this innovation is fresh and affords the player further specialisation of classes, what’s included is disappointingly redundant.

As you’ve guessed, the Support Strike Package is more defensive, targeted towards the benefit of your team including the likes of Ballistic Vests, EMPs and Recon Drones. The issue is that Call of Duty is NOT a team game. While inevitably the prospect of success is entirely subject to the joint efforts of each player in your team, there is no tangible team unity. You don’t cover comrades with suppressing fire, you don’t strategise plays, and you don’t work together –  beyond the vague direction that you are all shooting the same people. This makes these types of killstreak rewards entirely useless. I mean, who is going to choose an EMP instead of an Osprey Gunner?

And no, that’s not some kind of bourgeois hawk hunt.

At its core, Modern Warfare is a solo game. Yes, you are working towards team success in the long run, but when you earn a killstreak you are undoubtedly going to use it for your own benefit, that is to say, to extend your killstreak. This will take the form of Assault Package rewards like the AC130, rather than supporting your team with armour. What matters in COD is coming top, performing the best (KDR), regardless of whether your team wins or not. Tragically, this has been witnessed throughout Modern Warfare‘s online experience, with many players choosing to play strategy game types (like Domination or Sabotage) simply to achieve high kill ratios rather than working together to effectively execute the mission. It’s a one man army, this forming a primary reason why my loyalties have shifted towards EA’s uber shooter.

I will admit that the Specialist Strike Package, offering additional perks as you obtain uninterrupted kills, is a nice touch especially for those with a dedicated understanding of Modern Warfare‘s Perk system and how it impacts the game. However, unlocking a perk that slightly improves your aim or speed (until you die – unlike the other killstreak tiers) hardly compares to the immediate gratification of an enhanced kill ratio at the click of a button. It’s certainly interesting, but weighing up the potential benefit, the Assault Strike Package will always win.

There’s more though….

Some of the more quirky game types like Gun Game and One in the Chamber have been directly ripped from Black Ops, placed into a mixed server called FFA Gunplay which also includes the new All or Nothing. This manoeuvre in itself can be infuriating; after all, the three game types are so different and you may only be interested in playing one of them. I myself have a particular penchant for One in the Chamber, highly reminiscent of Golden Gun matches from Goldeneye 64. Black Ops managed to provide them all as single game lobbies so why is there the need to create a mixed lot Activision?

The biggest issue I have with these game types though is a product of the game’s general flaws. They’re unbalanced, infuriating and simply not fun. The maps are often too small and enclosed to provide suitable combat grounds for these particular game types, especially noticeable in Gun Game. Worse still, the idiotic lack of varied spawn points results in ridiculous respawn traffic, whereby you often find yourself appearing round a corner from an opponent or even directly in front of them. Clearly this is hazardous during one hit kill games. Whenever you respawn it becomes entirely necessary for the player to immediately check behind them which only leaves them vulnerable to attack from the front.

As a result of these significant failings, Modern Warfare 3 promotes a single strategy: Turtle Beach camping. With spawn points being haphazard and illogical, it makes little sense to sprint around the map awaiting inevitable death from behind. Instead you will find many people camping in a corner to ensure their posterior is free from spawn kills whilst keeping a wary eye in front of them. The additional use of a Turtle Beach headset enables the player to hear exactly what direction enemies are arriving from.

As you can imagine, this makes for a tedious online experience.

So twenty hours and £90 down. The verdict? Stick with Modern Warfare 2, you won’t be disappointed.

Max Payne 3 After the Fall Cover

With the impending release of Rockstar’s third installment in the series looming just ahead of us, the renowned game developer has collaborated with Marvel to create a unique animated Max Payne 3 comic book, entitled ‘Max Payne 3: After the Fall’.

With the comic cell-like storytelling of the games cut scenes, it seems an ideal platform crossover to adapt Max’s troubles into a comic mini series.

Max Payne Comic Storytelling

Cut scenes in Max Payne were stationary, with the impression of a comic book.

The three part series has been written by Dan Houser, Vice President of Rockstar creativity, and Sam Lake, Remedy Entertainment’s man behind Max (he was involved heavily in the production of the first two games, writing scripts, had input with level design, and was actually the face model for the protagonist – look at his ugly mug below).

Max Payne Face Sam Lake Face

What Marlon Brando called the ‘touching cloth’ face…

Max Payne 3: After the Fall will examine more explicitly details of Max’s tormented past, delving into the early years of his life as well as the issues surrounding all three games.

The best part is, the Max Payne comic book is totally free to download!

If digital comics aren’t your thing, Rockstar are also giving away ten exclusive printed copies of After the Fall edition one, just make sure you enter before July 12th!

I cannot wait to actually get my hands on the game being a fan of both the original titles. Let’s hope my fears aren’t proven correct though… Onward to May 15th!

Lego Legend of Zelda

After the commercial success of Lego Minecraft, independent creator Michael Inglis has sought to replicate this achievement with a rare and innovative set devoted to Lego Legend of Zelda.

Appealing to a wide mix of geeks around the world (gamers, toy fanatics, collectors, general otaku), Inglis has created a detailed campaign for his Lego Zelda concept including developed product ideas and a highly-viewed viral video. Having recently obtained the required support of over 10,000 followers, Lego will now officially review his ideas for potential product release.

Fingers crossed for some Lego Lon Lon some time soon!

Lego Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

What Lego Zelda Ocarina of Time figures could look like..

Is Zelda an RPG

Earlier this week I was presented with the following video by Happy Console Gamer. It poses the question is Zelda an RPG? Watch…

Having been a Zelda fan for years now, remembering fondly Link’s Awakening on the original Gameboy, it struck me as weird that I’ve never really considered this question before. Though, looking online I can see that Zelda’s genre is a fervently discussed issue in the gaming community! Time for me to throw in my two cents…

I would never profess to be a particular fan of RPGs, Fable, Fable 2 and Fallout 3 sitting neglected on my shelf for the last year or so. It’s not that I have a disliking for them, far from it. I simply don’t have time to grind away for 70+ hours before I am satisfied that the game has been explored sufficiently. With the sheer number of games that are available currently, I generally favour more linear titles that can be knocked out in 10 hours. Sorry Skyrim. Having said that, one of my favourite games of late is unequivocally The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. So enamoured with Shigeru Miyamoto’s latest endeavour, I actually sessioned it over the course of a few days, thoroughly exploring all areas, collecting bugs, weapon upgrades and heart containers.

This actually leads me on quite nicely to a discussion of whether Zelda is an RPG or not.

With an initial examination it is very easy to observe various features from the Legend of Zelda series that would indeed suggest that they are RPGs. Elements of quasi-grinding have always been key additions to the games, repeatedly killing low level enemies or slashing grass in order to collect enough Rupees to purchase items from the many in-game shops. This was especially prevalent in Skyward Sword with the addition of bug collection, in turn allowing for the upgrade of weaponry (another typical RPG trait). Similarly, the autonomous accumulation of hearts, a task which the games neither require or guide you in, further promotes Zelda  as an RPG. Furthermore, health and ammunition requirements have always been left open to the player; progression is not restricted by low attainment of both, beyond the player’s own struggle to defeat certain bosses with low ammo, health or healing potions, of course.

It’s this level of freedom which perhaps stands out as the most RPG-like aspect of the Zelda franchise. Though the games have an ingrained thread of linearity with strict narrative progression, individual exploration and discovery form extensive side plots. This can be seen in the quest for heart containers, or the many secondary plots from each title, completion of these unnecessary for ‘clocking’ the games: I often reminisce about Link’s Awakening, delivering [1990’s SPOILER] dog food to the crocodile; it was a completely unrelated side quest but one which was entertaining and very satisfying.

Additional RPG elements of Zelda titles include protagonist characterisation, or lack thereof, and speech mechanics. In each iteration of the franchise you play the role of a protagonist whose character is deliberately vague. There is no audible speech, he has no voice. In fact, characterisation goes very little beyond clarifying that he is a young ‘hero’. This affords the player the opportunity to stamp their own personality onto Link – even down to the name! Moreover, the games’ speech mechanics often allow the player to choose alternating responses when conversing with other characters (notably in Skyward Sword). However, though on the surface this gives the impression of player control, really with all answers generally resulting in the same consequences it is in fact an illusion. When was the last time you chose the ”wrong” answer in a Zelda game?

This, I feel is the key reason why Zelda is not an RPG. As explained above, it is true that there are many elements from the Zelda franchise that do indeed mirror those found in RPG games, yet they don’t quite have the required scope to render them entirely so. Narrative structures are decidedly linear, forcing players to complete tasks and temples in a strict order (areas must be completed in a set pattern for plot progression – generally, the new weapon obtained from one temple will allow access to the next). Apart from increasing your stock of life and ammo which eases the difficulty of combat, your exploration has very little impact on storyline. In fact, it is fair to say that there is no real way to change how the stories progress which is perhaps the most significant feature of RPGs.

Add to this the general lack of character and weapon customisation, and the exclusion of any experience based levelling system (with the obvious exception of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link), and you have a franchise that fails to meet the expectations of the RPG genre on many levels. Yet, in most recent execution this is changing somewhat; clearly Skyward Sword has taken Zelda to new heights, making it more and more like a role playing game. And who knows where this significant precedent could progress to in the future?

To answer the question then, is Zelda an RPG? No, it’s simply an immersive action adventure with familiar role-playing traits.

The real question is though, does this definition have any impact upon the quality of the game? The answer to this is much less contested…

Thanks to Mo, for the suggestion!

Games are becoming easier and easier to access right from the comfort of your home. Whether it’s digital downloads or simply your friendly neighbourhood delivery service, you no longer need to leave the house in order to access the world of games at your disposal.

The trouble is though, games are now too accessible, and there is swiftly becoming too many of them! You’ve got full titles, DLC, arcade and indie games, the list in endless. There simply isn’t enough time to try everything out, even just brief demos… what we need is some guidance.

Step in Hammy, with the new feature ‘Trial or Error’.

I will play the multitude of trial games, meaning you don’t have to, offering guidance on which titles are worth your time and which ones should be avoided like the daily reruns of Rules of Engagement. Bloody elvish David Spade.

AVOID: Ninja Gaiden 3

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Tecmo

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii U

 

Well, you know what they say, ‘the best things come in pairs’. Perhaps Team Ninja should have listened to this old adage before they embarked upon the third installment of their hack n’ slash series Ninja Gaiden. The demo is indefensibly poor, hampered by generic narrative, an over reliance on QTE, and a combat system that no longer rewards you for proficient knowledge of its intricacies.

Perhaps the biggest crime is that it’s simply not fun. When a game revolves around the merciless killing of enemies, with a multitude of death-bringers in your arsenal (swords, claws, scythes), then it’s completely unforgivable for it to be anything less than exciting and gratifying. Unfortunately for Ninja Gaiden 3, it’s well below par, feeling tedious and dishearteningly unoriginal. Worse still you are completely unable to appreciate any of the combat animation as a result of its speed and the needlessly close camera focus.

And why is it that when developers struggle with new iterations of their franchise they seek an ostensible solution in the use of jolly ol’ blighty as a setting. (Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare 3). It may well curry favour with UK fans, but it doesn’t make up for failings in other areas.

They did make the start menu read horizontally though; innovation at its finest!

Avoid Rating: 9/10 (the equivalent of avoiding ITV2 if you have no desire to watch tantastic entertainment degenerates Katie Price, Peter Andre or Kerry Katona).

DOWNLOAD: Fez

Developer: Polytron

Publisher: Polytron

Platforms: Xbox 360 Arcade

 

Finally, a game that does everything right.

With Fez, independent developers Polytron have managed to deliver exactly what Ninja Gaiden 3 failed to: originality of concept and execution. You take the role of Gomez, a pixelated miniature version of Stay Puft (with a similar reliance on snazzy headwear) as he embarks upon a mystical 2D journey.

The narrative is pleasingly simple: collect golden cubes in order to access areas previously locked. The real conceptual majesty surfaces in how you manage to do this. Fez affords you  the ability to rotate levels at 90 degree intervals, providing perspective changes that reveal new areas and alternative paths of progression. This creative innovation is the primary reason that the game is so engaging; it’s a puzzler unseen before, playing with your perception, prompting curiosity and thorough examination.

For me, Fez is immediately reminiscent of Super Meat Boy – the charming pixelated 2D visuals, the magical combination of puzzler and platformer, all tied up with some wonderful bleepy chiptune. It’s another indie dev success, following in the footsteps of Braid.

It’s wonderfully simple, but immersive and thoroughly engaging. Give it a go now!

Download Rating: 10/10