Author Archive

Just adding some articles from Movie-Moron:

Resident Evil: Damnation Review
Resident Evil: Retribution Review
Skyfall Review

I was also invited to take part in a critical dissection of each Bond actor’s best and worst movies, joining in at the Dalton years. The first article is here:

007: Best of Dalton – The Living Daylights


Prototype 2 Review

Posted: October 17, 2012 in Review
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Destroy New York City for fun and profit… again

The first Prototype was a fun, if flawed, title seeing you rampage your way across a zombie-plagued New York with a variety of hilarious and destructive superpowers. The second game offers essentially the same experience, with a few gameplay tweaks.

The most major change is that Alex Mercer, the first game’s protagonist, is now the story’s villain, infecting new character James Heller with the Blacklight virus and dishing out the franchise’s famous superpowers. The second is that the playing area has been divided into three islands, with northern New York now completely out of bounds, scaling the action down to smaller spaces. You also have the new ability to hunt for your targets with sonar, although this can only be activated at very specific points in certain missions.

Another key change is that there are now only six powers to cycle through, along with a shield ability. This streamlines the focus and prevents a lot of fumbling confusion during the many frantic battles. Other, more minor changes include tweaks to the side missions and the vast number of collectibles, all of which can now be located from the map screen.

Aside from these changes, there isn’t all that much different from the first game. You still wander around New York, although much of your exploration is hampered by the size of the islands and having the play the story to unlock the other areas. You still perform missions for various characters, many of whom inevitably betray you for one reason or another. The missions still involve sneaking into bases, murdering people, disguising yourself as someone else, causing massive amounts of damage, or a combination of all these objectives. Side missions try to add variety with the ‘race against time’ objectives, but these are few and far between. Probably the most enjoyable challenges are finding all the hidden items, simply because you’re forced to rely on your wits more than in any of the missions. There are also the ‘events’, challenges dotted across the city to test your skills to the limit. Unfortunately, these are only available to those who purchased the Radnet edition of the game when it was first released.

At roughly eight to ten hours, the game doesn’t outstay its welcome, although it doesn’t offer much in the way of replayability. Once you’ve done it, you’ll only feel obliged to go back in to pick up what little you missed the first time.

Prototype 2 is a hard game in pin down, as it does correct some of the flaws with the first game – namely the whiny protagonist – but doesn’t add much else to really qualify it as a true sequel. In fact, one of the first game’s best features – the slow spread of the virus over the course of the story – is entirely done away with here, leaving you with three islands at different stages of disaster. That’s not a bad thing, but it somehow feels less evolved than the ongoing outbreak of the first game. There are also no new skills, abilities or mutations this time around, as Heller simply learns everything that Mercer once discovered. Given how much fun it was to learn how to use new abilities effectively, the lack of any additional attacks is really disappointing. The only new abilities are very minor, allowing you to summon Brawlers and turn people into time bombs. Both are funny, but hardly pushing the boat out. Would it have been so hard to include a few extra new powers to use, or other areas to explore, or a little more variety in the missions?

Whether or not Prototype 2 is a worthy investment is mostly down to the individual. It’s every bit as good as the first game was, no more and no less. It’s probably more a spin-off than a true sequel, something that disappoints massively given the three years of development. What remains is a fun game that’s recommended, but no more or less than the first game.


Resident Evil 6 Review

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Review
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Resident Evil 6 Review

It’s all Shinji Mikami’s fault, really. He made Resident Evil 4 just too damn good, and now Capcom are trying to replicate his magic without the slightest understanding of what it was he did so well. It was simple: each chapter in the game had a standout moment that was completely unique, before the pace moved you swiftly on to the next bit. It was exciting, tense and most of all, fun.

Which is where Resident Evil 6 shambles into view, with Capcom’s most ambitious offering to date. There’s a colossal amount of content on offer here, with four full-length campaigns to play through, as well as online and offline co-op, and two bonus play modes. Alongside that is the service that keeps a record of your gameplay stats for the whole world to see. While all this is most definitely value for money, the main problem is the game’s lack of focus and general unwillingness to slow down for five minutes.

Parts of the game are genuinely stunning. For instance, the first hour of Leon’s campaign brings back the thrill of old-style Resident Evil, with you dispatching slow-moving zombies on a University campus. Most of Ada’s campaign puts priority on playing stealthily and avoiding confrontations. Jake has a section where you try and slip past an unkillable Nemesis-esque monstrosity. Also, the moments where the storylines interlink and offer up four-player co-op are fantastic. Strangely, many of the standout moments feel like tributes from the earlier games, such as the first time you saw a zombie in Resident Evil 1, or the mine cart sequence in Resi 4. But these are tiny jewels, lost admit a sea of samey gameplay and non-stop action sequences. For everything that stands out as being good, there are dozens of things that irritate, like a snowmobile chase down a collapsing mountainside, or a jet battle against an aircraft carrier, or an on-rails flight sequence in a helicopter. Every time the game draws you into its world, (something that occurs more frequently in Leon and Ada’s campaigns than Chris and Jake’s) it throws an explosion at you to make you remember that this is now an action franchise. Long gone is the brooding tension and slow-paced exploration. This is now all about sprinting and blowing things up and following objective markers through linear locations.

But this is not a bad game, that’s the important thing. For the most part, Resident Evil 6 nails exactly what it sets out to do. The new physical abilities are great, allowing you a variety of ways to create some room in a crowd, or just eliminate a single enemy in a stylish way. You can also now sprint, slide and roll across the ground, opening up a whole new way to take on the armies of grunts in your way. There’s also the new Skills that you can purchase, allowing upgrades of all the weapons, as well as your own health, your combat abilities and so on. Purchasing many of them requires a hell of a lot of skill points, so if you want to unlock most of the game’s content, you’ll need to put aside tens of hours.

Aside from the now-standard Mercenaries bonus game, there’s the new ‘Agent Hunt’ mode, where you play as a monster and attempt to kill people while they make their way through the game. While you can only jump in on specific sections (and only then when players have allowed access via the options menu), it’s a strange little distraction. Playing as the monsters isn’t as fun as it should be, killing players who are trying to navigate their way through the game can make you feel pretty bad about it and upgrading your monsters requires even more skill points – demanding even more of a time commitment from a game that already pushes past the thirty hour barrier.

But the game’s overwhelming problem is the pace. You aren’t allowed to enjoy the game at your own speed. Instead, you’re pulled along through the story at a breakneck pace, barely allowed time to gather your own thoughts or even explore the surroundings. For instance, one chapter in Chris’s campaign sees you battle an attack helicopter, chase an invisible snake through a building, flee a second attack helicopter, before jumping in a car for a ten minute chase sequence. It’s not providing players with relentless adrenaline, it’s throwing explosions at them until they actually begin to get bored of the pace. Worse, there’s so little difference in the campaigns that they all soon blur into one. Every character has a vehicle section, a run-into-the-screen chase, a slow motion gun battle, a maze full of invincible monsters and even a multitude of Quick Time Events. This latter is excruciating during the boss battles, as it highlights that the player can’t kill monsters as cool as the cutscenes can.

The big question, then: is Resident Evil 6 a disappointment? Undoubtedly the answer is yes, it’s a huge letdown. But it’s not, repeat, not a bad game – not like other Resident Evil titles such as Survivor or Operation Raccoon City. But it’s not great, like 4 or Revelations. Instead it’s distinctly above average, better than 5 was, but unable to scale the heights of even the original three games. It all comes down to your own preference – if your defining image of the series comes from the early days, you’ll be disappointed. If you preferred the fifth game, then this will blow you away.

At the end of the day, once the credits roll, you may well be left with a nagging sense of loss. This marks the end of the series as it was. It might even mark the death of the franchise as a whole – it’s been pushed so far, given so broad a scope that it’s impossible to think what could happen next. Whatever happens next, the action blowout has struck so deep that the series’ survival horror roots have been mangled and may never recover. And all this because Shinji Mikami made his swan song far too good.


Third Impressions: Resident Evil 6

Posted: October 4, 2012 in Review

Dear God in heaven, what the hell happened?

The first hour of Leon’s gameplay genuinely threatened Resident Evil 4’s dominance as the king of the franchise. Everything after that sabotages all the goodwill built up, leaving a seriously sour taste in the mouth.

The summary of Leon’s campaign can be described as ‘moments of genius crippled by incessant explosions.’ Chapter two sees a wonderful return to basics with some old-fashioned puzzle solving in a spooky church. After that, it gets steadily further afield until the game makes you crash land a passenger jet in China. It almost comes back to greatness when the C-Virus nukes the population, but then you have a series of progressively more infuriating boss fights against the same villain, culminating in what might be the most absurd battle in the history of all gaming.

Chris’s campaign is everything that was wrong with Resident Evil 5, condensed and expanded upon. To describe it as ‘Michael Bay action’ sells it short, because one moment you’re slogging through waves of heavily armored enemies that can mutate in accordance with the damage you inflict on them and the next you’re jumping a military vehicle into an aircraft carrier. There’s a car chase (remember how bad it was last time? Yep, it’s even worse now) and a mental sequence where you fly a jet against a ship. To say that this campaign misses the mark entirely is an understatement. This campaign could only have missed the point more if it was set in space and Chris Redfield had metal limbs that all turned into different weapons, with a soundtrack provided exclusively by Metallica.

The question that remains is a curious one: did Capcom ever truly understand the popularity of this franchise? It used to be about tension, atmosphere – is there something up ahead in the shadows? Is there a monster in this room? – all punctuated by lovely cutscenes that featured hammy voice acting and poor translation. The early games were a lovely tribute to classic horror movies, and they all had bags of tension in them, even with the cheesy dialogue. Now players are being asked two set off massive explosions every five seconds, while cutscenes play out more explosions just so you don’t get confused by what’s going on.

Two campaigns down. Two more to go. Can Resident Evil 6 salvage itself from the weight of its own ambition?

Second Impressions: Resident Evil 6

Posted: October 2, 2012 in Review

After the second chapter of Leon’s campaign comes to an end, it’s obvious that this is something very special indeed. Capcom have succeeded in upping the ante to unexpected levels. A chapter will start out in one way (for instance, trying to reach a catherdral) only to go down a totally different path (like a minecart ride).

The computer AI is remarkable, never getting and only sometimes needing assistance with the enemies. Not having to share your supplies with them this time around adds to the simplicity of the interaction as well, and you can also issue simple commands.

What’s apparent with this game is how Capcom are actually nicking the best parts of other games to use in Resi 6. The church seige from Left 4 Dead, or the ability to find your objective from Dead Space – these both feature in the game. It’s not a bad point, but it is a tiny bit disappointing that the grandaddy of them all is forced to bow to its own pretenders.

Still, it’s good. Very good. Three hours down. More to come.

First Impressions: Resident Evil 6

Posted: October 2, 2012 in Review

First Impressions of Resident Evil 6:

One chapter into Leon’s amazing campaign. If the game continues at this pace, this intensity, this level of genius, then Resident Evil 4 might well be dethroned as king of the franchise.

Capcom choose to open their survival horror campaign up in wonderfully gloomy fashion, throwing spooky light effects and flickers of lightening out to set the scene. A few lovely visual throwbacks to the franchise’s humble beginning crop up – memoirs of the very first time you encountered a zombie, the sound of distant dogs barking as you walk past a large window.

What’s more amazing is how well Capcom have created the entire world. You run through a city in total choas – other survivors flee, crash cars, are killed violently in front of you. The end of the chapter sees you team up with four others in a desperate bid to hold ground in a destroyed gun store. Subway trains continue to run on an automated serivce. The overall impression is one of a fully realised world that you’re trying to survive in, rather than a world created for you to pass through as with so many other Resident Evil titles.

But the game is ambitious, too. Zombies now dive at you, swing whatever weapons they held when they died. Some even carry explosives that can be shot. You can deliver a melee attack anytime you wish now. The humble knife has been upgraded to almost absurd levels, finally able to decapitate a zombie.

So, yes, Resident Evil 6 is well on the way to true greatness. And that’s one chapter in.

Is This Thing On?

Posted: October 1, 2012 in Musings

Wow, almost a whole year without a single post. In a professional portfolio. *Kicks self*

So here’s what happened…

After ThatGamingSite, Alltern8 and ConnectedConsoles all began to falter and shut down, I found myself wondering what I was doing. I’d put some serious time into writing for those sites, at the expense of my paying job, and at the end of it all, I didn’t really know if it was all worth it. I threw myself into my job, sometimes working up to fifty hours a week, and began writing a novel (about 90% done). I still write for Movie-Moron, but it’s much more sporadic – the occasional review, really.

Now I’m going to pick myself back up and get in the game again. I had a curious chance meeting with an old associate at the Eurogamer Expo last week and he made me remember what I loved about the writing. The only thing I’d done wrong was to overdo it.

So I’m going to do my best to write for one site at a steady pace. I’ll let you know what I end up doing soon.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Review
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Deus Ex Human Revolution Review

The first Deus Ex was magnificent, the original ‘free choice’ game. The less said about the second, the better. So how will this third title fare? It turns out to be a curious mixture of great moments and loathsome mechanics that combine to form an ultimately unsatisfactory whole.

The game revolves around the idea of augmentations, a series of upgrades to your fragile human frame that can change the way you play. You can’t get all of them (at least, you’re not supposed to – the game is so full of glitches that it’s possible to snare all the upgrades before you gain your first side mission) so you are forced to choose how your game unfolds. Do you put the emphasis into stealth, hacking, firepower or physical abilities? Seeing as how the game only congratulates you for playing stealthily and avoiding merciless slaughter, you have free will on the basis that you don’t care about gaining rewards.

The main problem with the game is that it wants to trick the player into believing that they are free to play however they see fit. This is a lie. You have exactly two choices – kill or not kill. Occasionally you’ll have the chance to talk your way through a situation, but this can be waltzed through with the right augmentation. The game also pretends that actions have consequences. This too is a lie. For the most part, interacting with people or completing side missions simply rewards you with an abundance of credits at a later date. Considering how much money you can gain everywhere else in the game, it’s irritating that you aren’t given any other type of reward.

The game’s lack of genuine free will in play continues throughout the entire game. It doesn’t matter how you play through because, if you’ve been a dick to everyone or become worshipped as Mr Nice Guy, there are only four endings. And all four can be unlocked during the final mission. To put it bluntly, there is nothing to gain from being a nice guy in this game. In fact, many of the game’s achievements ask you to play opposite to how you would choose to do things. One rewards you for not completing a sidequest fully, while another will pop up once you’ve allowed a vicious gunrunner to go free. It makes no sense.

Another irritating point is the size of the text in the game – it’s tiny. If you are playing on anything smaller than a wall-sized TV, kiss your chance of reading any ebooks or emails goodbye. There is also the problem of the hacking minigame – a tedious flag-capturing affair that you’ll be playing every five minutes – because it’s just plain naff. Because it’s the only minigame you’ll come across for the entire duration of the campaign, it means that absolutely everything needs to be hacked – people’s homes, storage units, safes, even military installations. You’ll be playing this tiresome game a lot more than you’d like.

The game does do stealth brilliantly, making you any successful infiltration feel like a work of genius on your part. Every enemy can be sneaked past without engaging, every camera can be turned off, every sentry robot can be disabled, and gaining access to a secure facility without raising a single alarm is a very satisfying experience indeed. Although, to be fair, it is one that will see you constantly reloading your last save.

Speaking of which, the load times are horrendous. Even after installing the game on your hard drive, the wait is roughly twenty to thirty seconds for every load screen. And when you consider that most, if not all, of the game’s sidequests ask you to go from one end of the map to the other and back again, you’re looking at a minimum of four load screens for each mission. Bring a book for the wait.

The game also comes riddled with bugs. These range from the exploitable (the ability to upgrade completely at the very beginning of the game with just a few hours’ effort) to the ludicrous (enemy AI seeing through walls). None of them are game-breaking, it’s just disappointing that a triple-A title has come packed with so many glitches.

On the whole, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a strangely unsatisfying game. The feeling on complete a stealth section perfectly is undeniably great, but the game’s appalling story, hateful load screens, loathsome characters and myriad of bugs and glitches render the experience somehow incomplete. For a ‘free choice’ game, that’s just not good enough.


On Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Posted: November 25, 2011 in Musings
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I wanted to have my review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution up by now. I really did. Reviews for the game were glowing with praise across the board and I was very excited when I finally borrowed it from my housemate.

Then I started playing it and everything went wrong.

It’s such a strange game. Half of it is good – almost superb, in fact – but the other 50% is pure, undiluted shit. To start with, the text is incredibly small. If you happen to play this on a TV screen that’s smaller than, say, an entire wall, you won’t be able to read half of what is going on. Emails, ebooks, plot-relevant reams of text, you name it – you can’t see any of it.

Another point is that the game is more buggy than an anthill covered in honey. Some side quests can become impossible to finish if an enemy glitches out of existence, guards can sometimes be killed by your non-lethal tranquilliser gun, you can even accidentally slaughter a guard if the glitch occurs while you move their unconscious body out of the way.

Something else that pissed me off was the fact that you have to spend your vaulable Praxis upgrades kits on expanding your inventory. Why? What’s wrong with spending credits purchasing larger pockets? Why must you be forced to choose between a useful upgrade and a ludicriously minor one that shouldn’t inconvience you at all?

While the game is a thoughtful one, rewarding you for sneaking through areas and not going in guns blazing, the achievements make little sense, as you seem to be rewarded for doing things that are completely at odds with how you should play the game. One achievement will unlock if you toss a man off a roof (going against the achievement for not killing anyone at all), another will reward you for letting a guilty man escape justice and another will unlock if you choose not to hand over a piece of evidence to a grieving mother. Um, what?

I’m almost at the end of Deus Ex, an experience that oscilates wildly between entertaining stealth and hateful mechanics (why do you have to stop and listen to every single guard’s conversation when you try and sneak through an area?) I’m now in a position where I can’t see any way to progress. I’m in a boss fight with the final mercenary and my augmentations have been turned off (I was probably warned about this in some document or other, but I couldn’t read the blasted things). Naturally, I have been playing the game without trying to kill anyone, so I have very little ammunition. I am also playing the game on Hard. And now I am stuck.

So that’s my experience of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – mostly excellent stealth pretty much destroyed by the game it’s in.

Batman: Arkham City Review

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Review
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Batman: Arkham City Review

This is the game of the year. Perhaps it’s unprofessional to open a review with such a bold statement, but in the case of Arkham City, it’s true. This is – somehow – better than the year’s other great games, Dead Space 2 and Portal 2 and bigger, better and more intense than the first Arkham title. You knew it was going to be good. But you had no idea how good.

Picking up a year or so after the first game ended, Arkham Asylum has grown to be the only prison in Gotham City, a sprawling metropolis at the city’s edge, surrounded by vast walls and overseen from a huge tower by Professor Hugo Strange. A cunning adversary, Strange has deduced the true identity of Batman and now the titular hero is in a race against time to discover Strange’s true objective – for this is the night that his plans finally come to fruition.

Straight away, the game feels like a vast improvement on the first one. The bleak prison feels rundown, ruin and staggering in scope. The first time you mount a tower and see the entirety of the city spread before you is one of the most powerful moments in gaming this year. You are Batman and you can go everywhere, do everything. The next improvement you’ll notice is the ability to deliver a Takedown or a Counter to two guys at once. This makes your combos so much easier to keep going, and combined with the huge variety of new special attacks and gadgets that can be brought into combat, Batman has never felt so unstoppable.

Happily, the combat and location aren’t the only upgrades – the story has also undergone a Hush-style makeover to make this one of the cleverly plotted, tightly focussed and best written games for the last five years or so. The plot twists and turns, bringing Batman into confrontations with several of his most fearsome supervillains in a few cracking boss fights. While they won’t be remembered as classics, the boss battles are far more intelligent than before, forcing you to use different gadgets each time, with bigger and grander villains throwing everything they have at you. The exception is the outstanding Mr Freeze encounter, where you must use all of your cunning to outsmart him.

Another villain who makes a welcome return is the Riddler. Instead of simply mocking your intelligence from afar, this time Edward Nigma kidnaps a group of people, forcing you to uncover his clues before you can get the location to save them, one by one. There are four hundred Riddler challenges for Batman to overcome, ranging from simply finding a hidden question mark to manipulating your gadgets in an intelligent new way. Finding all of them will add on a minimum of four to five hours on the game, and the payoff – getting your hands on Riddler – is more than worth it.

In addition to improving dramatically on what has gone before, developers Rocksteady have also created entirely new sections just for Catwoman. Occupying roughly an extra hour or two of game time, the sections feel delightfully different. Catwoman is more graceful in combat, with her whip combos, caltrops and bolas attacks and feline agility, but she is also more cumbersome to get around the city with. Whereas Batman can grapnel boost to the top of a building and keep gliding, Catwoman must whip to a point and use her claws to scale the towers. Catwoman also has forty five additional Riddler challenges to complete, adding to the scale of an already enormous game.

Completing the Riddler’s challenges also unlocks a vast amount of content. Bonus character trophies and concept art are a given, but this time you gain access to new levels in the Riddler’s Revenge challenge mode. Like before, the levels are divided into Predator and Combat, with medals being awarded for completion of specific tasks – Takedown an enemy through glass, etc. The difference this time is a new addition, Campaign mode, where you must take on three set levels in order, each of which demands you get as many medals as possible while manipulating a series of level modifiers – time limit, recharging health, etc. You can also play as Catwoman for these sections, making this supposed additional mode at least as long as the game itself, if not longer.

Alongside the Riddler’s Revenge, there’s another unlockable bonus – New Game Plus. Essentially a harder mode, you can replay the entire game again with all your stats carrying over and all your gadgets, trophies and collectables. The game ups the difficulty by throwing tougher enemies in from the off, having only half your health recharge at any one time and by removing the on-screen counter warning, making this a far more intense experience.

Are there any criticisms to level at Arkham City? Maybe the fact that it eventually comes to an end, or that hints are laid down at what will come in the next game, or the fact that players will have to wait a couple of years for Arkham 3. Aside from that, there are no major problems with this game – it’s damn near flawless.

Improving upon its predecessor’s faults until they shine is quite one thing, but Arkham City makes Asylum look like a demo. A startling achievement and a game that will take a hell of a lot of work to beat – but what else would you expect from the game of the year?