Category Archives: REVIEWS

MGS: Ground Zeroes Thoughts

Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is interesting in that it feels like Kojima making a proposition to the gaming world. “Here’s the variety you can have with a single well-designed location and systems.”

The weather and time changing the way the game plays is fantastic. You go from the low-visibility (for both you and guards) of the rainy, nighttime hurricane in the Ground Zeroes mission to the calm sunny day of the second mission. It changes the feel and the approach to very similar infiltration tasks.

With some scripting alterations you can create a surprising amount of gameplay variety in the engine as designed. It doesn’t always work out great, I will say the third mission which is mostly just a helicopter turrent-gun style sequence is generally boring. Not because it’s badly done, it’s competent, but it’s an over-familiar kind of game mission at the moment and this one has nothing to really differentiate it.

Still, this is a proposition I’ve been behind for a while. Tight, smaller-space locations with strong design can hold a huge amount of variety, and with a focused visual development can often look more convincing than the vast repeat-necessitated landscapes that many games (lots of which I love) have to use.

I’ll always bring it back to Shenmue, such a formative game for me, because the first game had a very small, even for the time, playspace overall. Yet it was, outside of some textures and understandable models that repeated in the real world, largely unique. Every street was it’s own street, every shop a full location for itself, even if you never have need to enter it in the course of a straightforward linear playthrough. The abundance of detail gave the small location character in a way very few games ever manage and a sense of reality that broke through the now-dated graphics and complemented what Yu Suzuki was attempting to create.

Titan Souls – My Thoughts

I wanted to like it. I really did but the game completely ruined itself with the design of the fights, and when that’s the whole game it’s a pretty big problem. A few points stuck out to me:

1) The one-hit kill/death setup isn’t inherently bad but it doesn’t work here. You die fast and often and then you wait a short, but painfully cumulative time before you can try again. As I mentioned, pretty much constantly, an instant restart would help but I don’t think it would solve some of the problems.

2) Death teaches you nothing. In a game like Dark Souls or God Hand you die a lot but, most of the time, that death teaches you something. You learn a technique that works or one that doesn’t, you build your knowledge and as you approach the situation again you can go in feeling like you’re better prepared. Titan Souls has none of this, sometimes a bosses’ weak point will be obvious and you can just try to attack it, sometimes it’ll have no clear weakness and you’ll be fumbling to solve the puzzle of it blindly. If you had a life bar, you’d feel better about figuring out what hits work as there could be some indication you’re on the right track, even as simple as making the enemy flash when hit. Since you just die, die and die again you can have solved the puzzle but not know that because there’s no indication and the finickiness of the weak point can have you endlessly searching for another option. Someone on my G+ also nailed one point on the head, fights are at their easiest the moment you start. The ideal run to any fight is to hit them on their first exposure of the weak spot, anything after that scales in difficulty and frustration, and it again lacks any more meaningful info the longer you take.

3) The Overworld experience means little. In Shadow of the Colossus you spend a good deal of time simply traveling, searching for the target and in that time you drink in the spectacular world around you. It uses the ambient storytelling we often hear about in the best possible way, giving you a feel almost akin to a historian in a grand mysterious place. It’s varied and crafted so well that the journey is as much a part of the experience as the fight. Titan Souls aims for this but misses by a large margin, the world feeling overtly gamey and unnatural, exploring it rewards you with… nothing. The pixel art is nice but the world is oddly static and dull, with no character and an unfortunate reliance on game cliches like “Ice Area” and “Lava Area” that just hammer home the generic feel. More lessons from their inspirations such as SOTC and Zelda would go a long way.

4) Bosses look decent but, like the overworld, don’t really have their own character. Maybe there is a story to this land, something the developers know, but it’s not apparent to me as a player. They are hugely disparate without anything that really ties them together with any central narrative or concept. Fighting them also often feels very similar boss to boss, usually in a dull flat arena you avoid them then hit them in the front or back. The best difference I found was the water-dragon type enemy in the Ice Level and that ended up being a mashup of a Colossus and the fourth form of Chaos from Sonic Adventure, though I’m not really docking it marks for that. Again I must rep this person on G+ with his mention of the vertical movement of the bosses in an oblique perspective situation being extremely hard to judge, making bosses more annoying to fight than they rightfully should be.

As it stands Titan Souls is more of a recommendation to play its inspirations again, rather than it. In the same way 3D Dot Game Heroes veered too close to Zelda, but without matching the quality, Titan Souls does the same for SOTC, Dark Souls and Zelda, replay a classic instead.

Five Nights at Freddy’s

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a tense game.

It’s an extremely simple game of managing a single resource in order to survive. You have only the barest of interaction and yet it is incredibly successful at what it’s trying to do. It’s not deep in it’s horror but it is effective and quite clever for it.

It’s two primary elements are jump scares and a delightfully grotty atmosphere. The latter is fantastic themeing; a chuck-e-cheese/showbiz pizza type location is perfectly suited for creating a slightly disturbed feel. These kinds of family entertainment location already exist with a very bright facade covering a fairly dull or even unpleasant reality; it’s not hard to imagine an office as dirty and oppressive as the one in the game as a genuine location. Often taking something innocent and making it evil or creepy is a lazy trope done with little thought, it’s easy to sell to a teenage crowd who are only just encountering these ideas for the first time. Here Scott Cawthon creates an impressive sense of personality with the premise of the free-roaming robots and the absurd job you are performing. It echoes the kind of impossible, yet interesting, sci-fi worlds that were so common in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s grim, it’s unbelievable but it is also fun and compelling in it’s own right.

The jump scares are, as always, a fairly cheap mechanism but that is fine. They’re not the goal of the game, they’re the deterrent for failure. Knowing that they’re coming if you fuck up is your incentive to play better and the reason you end up filled with paranoia. It is, as in so many things, more about the anticipation rather than the action itself. Losing track of one of the characters means you’ve opened yourself up to a possible jump and you don’t want that because they’re very effectively performed! You’ll panic, you’ll scrabble at cameras, you’ll be afraid to look about in the game because it MIGHT JUST BE THERE.

THEN IT IS! DAMN YOU PURPLE DOG THING!

It’s simple, it’s short and it’s not particularly replayable but it’s also cheap, effective and if it’s up your street, highly entertaining.

What I didn’t expect from it, and am most glad of, is that it’s made me want to see this world expanded. It’s a grinning kind of dirt and fear and I’d love to see more of what could be out there.

Spec Ops: The Line – My Thoughts

Well I’ve finished Spec Ops: The Line.

Visually, it’s excellent. The art direction in creating Dubai is strong and it has a love of using extremes of colour but not to a point that feels cartoon-like, just stylish and evocative of the image of grandeur that Dubai fostered.

For the rest of it, it’s a complicated one. It’s a third-person military cover shooter. As with any game that wants you to consider the actions you’re undertaking it does have to go to lengths to make those actions at least entertaining enough to keep you playing. So mechanically the game feels solid, not great, but solid. Still they want you to consider the ramifications of military actions, of killing and of command.

Does it succeed? Sometimes, yes, very well. It’s much better than the ham-fisted binary GOOD/BAD that exists in many games. It tries to tell you the story of your character, Captain Walker, and give you moments to choose his role and actions, yet sometimes it purposefully takes choice away from you. You’re never meant to feel like you are Captain Walker, you are always watching him, it keeps distance in a way that I feel works nicely and is served well through choosing to keep the game third-person.

It’s story isn’t groundbreaking. It takes inspiration from Heart of Darkness and, in turn, Apocalypse Now and the ideas that you are presented with are not new. It is, however, still effective. Choosing to examine actions through the guise of existing games, even under the name of a prior military shooter series, works in a way that a heavily abstracted or fantastical setting does not. You enter with into it with a larger context, a wider range of existing content that carry with them certain notions and ideas. Even knowing right from the off that the game will try to tear that apart, it still gives it a baseline to draw from.

It isn’t completely successful. I felt that towards the end it was having trouble keeping the ideas up to the length of the campaign, which is pretty short, but still they were clearly having trouble. Sometimes the messages felt heavy-handed or delivered without quite the thought that they would need to be truly effective. Also despite a lot of talk of the game’s ambiguity, I didn’t feel there really was all that much, it messages and concepts were clear, even when they were delivered less-than-ideally and peripheral questions of specifics aren’t especially interesting or important to the wider picture.

It feels like assessing the game on it’s pure interactions or failures in gameplay would be colossally missing the point. Clearly they’re a part of it but now I’ve played through I find myself not caring about them, they’re not what I took away from this and I doubt I was ever supposed to.

I feel good that writing this has proved challenging. While not haunted by the game, as some might say they were, I am still thinking about it. I’m still assessing the experience and feeling that it has given me something, which is in stark contrast to many games.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 – LONG LIVE THE NEW TRUCK

Sometimes people buy me games as a joke, games to troll me, games that I must, thanks to a sense of obligation, now play for their twisted amusement. This is how I came to own Euro Truck Simulator 2.

If you’re unaware of what the game entails, it’s a long-haul delivery simulator where you drive across Europe transporting goods and slowly building up your own trucking empire.

It’s not for me. But I have dutifully played several hours of it over on twitch, which can be seen here if you wish:

http://www.twitch.tv/powerstreak/b/484316530
http://www.twitch.tv/powerstreak/b/484530756
http://www.twitch.tv/powerstreak/b/484743081

My time with the game has been up and down in some respects, but for the most part I was having a lot of fun streaming it. I wasn’t playing the game that SCS designed; as I barrelled down the roads regardless of speed limits, red lights and other vehicles. I was failing miserably at their game, but I was having fun playing by my own rules and nothing was preventing me from doing that, which was commendable freedom and has provided me with several hours of entertainment so far.

But like I said: the game they intend is not for me. I’m not into trucks, I’m not into delivery logistics, I’m not really into simulators. Were I to review this game based off this massive disinterest bias it would get a fairly low score, which is something that would happen were I to try and review any of the FIFA games as well, but that would be hugely unfair to SCS.

First the context of this game needs to be established. It’s a niche product of limited appeal, appeal that it might outshine a little, but it cannot rely on converting disinterested people to its cause. So sales are always going to limited, which means in order to make producing the game possible at all the budget is going to have to be similarly limited. It’s also produced by a necessarily small team. The context means you have to adjust certain elements of your expectations and try to realize what goals they tried to fulfil and how well they did. The impression I get from the ETS2 community across forums and mod sites is that they did a fantastic job giving people the game they wanted. Continue reading

Resident Evil 6 – Lo, I Am Become Death

Where do you start?

I’m sure that’s what Capcom’s designers asked themselves when they geared up for this sixth Resident Evil; and what answer did they find? “At the bottom, then start digging.”

Before I get into the meat of the review I’d like you to look at this highly scientific digital analysis of what powers of Resident Evil 6:

Ahem.

Resident Evil 6 is a terrible mess; one that, rather than building on the strengths of the series, buries them deep under a mountain of superfluous nonsense. To understand these failings you have to view the game within the context of the series.

Resident Evil is the popular progenitor (haaaaa…) of the Survival Horror genre. Taking deep influence from Alone in the Dark and a NES RPG called “Sweet Home” the first game brought horror in gaming forwards in the public eye with its focus on vulnerability. Characters were, by game standards, quite weak and limited in their abilities; they only could only withstand a few attacks, had tiny inventories, health and ammunition were scarce and saving the game required the use of a strictly finite resource. At the same time the game built an intriguing mystery and world for itself, one that relied on drip-feeding information and locations, opening up a conspiratorial story lurking at the crossroads of large corporations and small-city America. This combination of gameplay pressures and mysterious world-building were key to the success of the original game, and laid the foundations for the series.

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Tiny Death Star – Theme Power

The only way to win is not to play the game.

Usually this phrase is a warning, a note to tell you that whatever you’re thinking of engaging with is terrible enough that it should be avoided in the first place. Except here, in Tiny Death Star, it’s the best way to progress.

TDS1

Tiny Death Star plays out, much like its predecessor Tiny Tower, a basic construction scenario. You begin with a small Death Star and some in-game currency, using this you add new levels such as retail, recreation or residential, then you move in Bitizens, assign them jobs and order them stock to sell. Beyond that there is a slender element of strategy in assigning people the most appropriate or desired jobs, but that is of little consequence. What matters to Tiny Death Star is time. Levels take time (hours) to build, stock takes time to arrive (minutes-hours) and these interactions make up the lions share of the game. These can be skipped by spending Imperial Bux, a form of currency earned very slowly in-game, or very quickly by spending real money.

Spending a little money feels fine, the game costs nothing to install and throwing a couple of quid down Nimblebit way seems reasonable. Unfortunately that couple of quid buys you very little, a character perhaps, 3-4 skipped restocking times. To truly have an effect you’ll have to keep throwing money down that well, like dropping £62.22 to get yourself 2000 Bux. It’s a common business model, especially in the mobile arena, and nothing unique to Tiny Death Star, but it raises some interesting points.

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