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The Walking Dead: A New Frontier review

Walking Dead main image

So much of episodic graphic adventure The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is right on the money. Following a group of mostly engaging characters, it tells an enjoyable story of family and loyalty brought to life by the striking, cel shaded art style that’s become synonymous with developer Telltale Games. It’s even got one hell of an ace up its sleeve in the form of everyone’s second favourite teen survivalist (after The Last of Us’ Ellie, of course), Clementine.

In fact, notwithstanding a couple of minor problems here and there, it’s difficult to pinpoint any truly glaring flaws with the finished article. Rather, like The Walking Dead: Season 2 and The Walking Dead: Michonne mini-series before it, A New Frontier’s biggest problem is an inescapable sense déjà vu.

Simply put, you can’t help but feel you’ve experienced many of these scenarios before.

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Clem, like any self-respecting American teen, armed with a deadly weapon

Set roughly 4 years after the undead apocalypse ravaged the planet, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier chronicles the journey of protagonist Javier Garcia, who, along with sister-in-law Kate, nephew Gabe and niece Mariana, lives a peripatetic existence rather than settling in a single, potentially vulnerable location. That is, until a misunderstanding in episode one embroils them in a feud with the New Frontier; a community of not entirely unscrupulous survivors inhabiting the ruins of Richmond, Virginia, led by a tetrarchy which includes Javi’s estranged, hot-headed older brother David.

Over the course of the next 5 episodes, the narrative focuses on the Garcia family’s attempts to extricate themselves from the ministrations of this insidious and fractured society, and Javi’s desperation to keep his adopted family together.

When reduced in this way to its most basic form, the main premise hardly exudes originality, but when you factor in the various sub-plots – the most intriguing of which being the Javi-Kate-David love triangle – A New Frontier possesses enough to keep the average player invested in the tale. This is despite the odd misstep here and there, such as the actions of amiable EMT Elanor at the conclusion of episode 4 which, bizarrely, don’t appear to be affected by your previous behaviour towards her, Gabe’s unconvincing transition to adulthood or the presence of overtly ruthless thug Badger in a peaceful settlement like Richmond.

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Clearly, the undead are also susceptible to teen angst

The absorbing if inconsistent narrative is mirrored in the cast of characters. Javi, Kate and David are welcome additions to the series, each bringing something a little bit different to proceedings. Revealed to have been a rather self-centred and irresponsible ex-baseball professional prior to Armageddon via regular flashback sequences, Javi doesn’t exactly fit the mould of a typical Walking Dead protagonist (not once does he utter “this is who we are now”), yet he still manages to shield his loved ones from the horrors that surround them. Kinder and more prudent, though similarly unprepared for parenthood, Kate resonates with the player in the same way as Sasha and Snow White from Tales from the Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us respectively, in that you’re rooting for her from start to finish and acutely aware of the perils she faces on a daily basis. Lastly, despite his fiercely protective nature which at times manifests itself in brutal fashion, David ultimately comes across as a decent man who’ll do whatever it takes to keep his family and friends safe.

However, aside from diminutive amazon Ava and enigmatic drifter Jesus (a familiar face to anyone who’s read the comic books or watched the most recent television series), the rest of the supporting cast don’t cut such distinctive figures, feeling rather like generic, updated versions of previous characters. That being said, the closest thing to a poorly designed character in the entire season is only really the stereotypically argumentative, pissy teen Gabe; a young man who’s seemingly oblivious to humanity’s plight and totally unappreciative of Javi and Kate’s efforts to defend him against the undead plague.

I’m aware I’ve only mentioned fan-favourite Clem in passing up to this point. Unfortunately, this represents her relegation to a supporting role in the events of A New Frontier – much to the chagrin of some players. It’s true there’re a handful of flashbacks that provide you with the opportunity to guide her actions directly and discover what she’s been doing since Season 2; the problem is these sections are as infrequent as they are brief. It’s a real shame Telltale Games’ decided not to explore her character arc in greater depth during these segments; watching her evolution from philanthropic adolescent to the jaded and pragmatic survivor Javi encounters in the first episode would undoubtedly have been a fascinating tale.

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Farage as he would appear to Shallow Hal

Conversely, if Telltale’s failure to create a truly original story is a little disappointing, the lack of anything other than minor refinements to the tried and tested gameplay mechanics that so perfectly suit this style of game is extremely pleasing.

The ability to cultivate your own (relatively) unique story remains the biggest draw and, from that perspective, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier matches the very best Telltale titles; even Tales from the Borderlands. The signature dialogue wheels allow you to develop Javi and, to a lesser extent, Clementine’s character’s in vastly different ways from one playthrough to another, consequently changing the course of the narrative, their personal relationships etc. etc. Meanwhile, whether a result of the studio’s years of experience or the improved processing power of current gen hardware, the momentous binary choices that are the fulcrum of each episode likewise have the potential to generate fundamental adjustments to the wider story. For instance, one character (I won’t say who) died towards the end of episode 2 on my first playthrough, but survived the entire season on my second leading to completely new exchanges and situations, vastly increasing the replayability of this otherwise linear title.

Semi-regular quick time events – press X to crush this zombie’s head, press Y to shoot an approaching bandit, that kind of thing – affords some semblance of action amidst a torrent of conversations, though certainly not enough to impress anyone who prefers more bombastic fair. Other than that, you’re restricted to walking around specific, claustrophobically small locations here and there that, aside from the odd bit of expository dialogue, merely delay the start of the next big event.

That’s not to say A New Frontier doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Although I didn’t try it myself, crowd play (making its Walking Dead debut) is a thoroughly interesting concept that does exactly what it says on the tin: it enables let’s players to cede control of decision making to the audience in one of two ways. Firstly, the host can either reserve the right to have final say on all decisions if they don’t trust their viewers; secondly, a majority vote determines how events will unfold. Whichever option you select, crowd play’s greatest attribute is its ability to provide the kind of community experience that’s such an integral part of all Telltale titles.

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Jesus and his disciples

Elsewhere, though not quite as captivating as Firewatch or Life is Strange, the familiar cel shaded style and vibrant colour palette brilliantly convey the desolation of human civilisation. Cities lay in ruins; the rusted shells of cars litter the landscape and nature has already begun to reassert its dominance over the earth. Besides, given The Walking Dead’s comic book roots, it’s a particularly appropriate aesthetic choice.

Appealing as the visuals are, it does limit the quality of the character animations. Javi’s gait is comically unnatural, his movements incongruously jaunty, whilst the combat animations are pretty inelegant and feeble in execution. Fortunately, the largely impressive voice acting and excellent sound design helps to compensate for the problem. I’m especially fond of the bleeding effect at the edge of screen and the swell of the orchestra whenever you find yourself in a jam, a feature that never fails to ramp up the tension.

There are a few minor, almost trivial glitches worth mentioning. For one thing, the game struggles to render zombies en mass every once in a while, causing a touch of rubber banding. Additionally,  don’t be surprised if you see a recently deceased character appear suddenly in the background of a transitional scene at certain points although, if I’m honest, the latter is actually quite amusing, if immersion-breaking.

Episode length, on the other hand, is a slightly bigger issue. Whereas the component parts of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones: Season One would take a diligent player approximately 2 hours to complete, each of A New Frontier’s 5 episodes can be finished in a leisurely 90-minutes; hardly a reasonable return for your £25 season pass. It’s so frustrating when you think how straightforward it would’ve been for the developer to add an extra 30+ minutes with expanded Clementine sections or a couple of additional sequences.

I know they say you should always leave them wanting more in the entertainment business, but this is just ridiculous.

At the conclusion of episode 5, fans are reassured that Clementine’s story will be continued in an upcoming, as yet unannounced sequel. And, while I’m reasonably excited for this next chapter, I personally think the series would benefit from an extended break. Much as I enjoy all things Walking Dead, like the long-running television programme, things are beginning to feel somewhat stale and predictable.

Let’s be honest, chances are Season 4 (as I hereby dub it) will revolve around Clementine and a new group of more or less good people battling to fend off a rival gang of unscrupulous individuals, culminating in the death of at least one close companion.

For this more than any other reason, Telltale’s latest foray into the zombie apocalypse just about scrapes an 8/10.

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Tales from the Borderlands review

Tales from the Borderlands 1

From left to right: Sasha, Rhys, Fiona and Vaughn

When Tales from the Borderlands released back in 2014/2015, I have to say, I wasn’t that interested. Possessing only a basic knowledge of Gearbox Software’s original Borderlands series of action RPG’s, I simply couldn’t justify spending money on a game I had no great connection to.

Fast forward now to May 2017 and, aware that the game was available for free to PS Plus subscribers, I decided to try it out for myself; thank goodness I did. I hadn’t even reached the halfway point of episode one before I realised Tales from the Borderlands is good – surprisingly good.

Featuring a cast of absolutely wonderful characters, along with an engrossing narrative and hilarious dialogue, it’s easily one of Telltale Games’ best.

Tales from the Borderlands 4

Spoilers: Handsome Jack is back

The central storyline follows ambitious yet likeable middle manager Rhys, glib Pandoran con-artist Fiona and their rag-tag group of adventurers on their quest to unlock the secrets of the Gortys project and, ultimately, to find the vault of the traveller, wherein lies a mountain of priceless alien artefacts. Unfortunately, things don’t exactly go according to plan. Aside from the trust issues that plague the team throughout their travels, they also have to deal with ruthless gangsters, corrupt executives and experienced vault hunters, all whilst navigating a series of increasingly dangerous events they’re completely unprepared for.

Utterly enthralling from start to finish, the narrative benefits from a story that’s far more malleable than perhaps all previous Telltale games. During my back-to-back playthroughs, for example, I experienced entirely different scenes as a direct result of selecting option B rather than option A, not to mention wildly divergent relationships that changed fundamentally as a result of my responses during conversations. The result is a game that boasts a level of replayability far in excess of other, nominally linear titles.

Yet, as enjoyable as it is to mould the plot yourself, I particularly enjoyed the upbeat tone of the game. Thanks to the quality of the writing, there’re plenty of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments throughout the course of the 5 episodes, along with an overall sense of optimism and camaraderie that’s really quite refreshing in today’s cynical world. It’s not without the occasional instance of heartache of course (look out for episode 4), however, these more dramatic story beats come across as endearing and charming rather than cheesy or prosaic. It’s quite a change for Telltale Games when you consider how important bittersweet storytelling has been to the success of previous titles such as The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, but Tales from the Borderlands certainly doesn’t suffer for it.

Equally well-written and engaging are the cast of characters. Rhys, Fiona, Sasha, Gortys, Loader Bot and Scooter impress the most, not least because they’re believable. Yes, many of the exchanges between them devolve into witty badinage and oftentimes they’ll shrug off what would be traumatic experiences for you and me in no time at all, but nonetheless, they each convey a sense of humanity. They have their own hang ups, hopes and fears, and thus feel truly three dimensional.

Bringing these excellent characters to life, the performances from the hugely talented voice cast deserve equal praise. Troy Baker is typically brilliant as intelligent if out-of-his-depth salary man Rhys; Laura Bailey is perfect as charming grifter Fiona and Ashley Johnson is unsurprisingly fantastic as naïve robot Gortys. However, putting in perhaps the best performance of all, Erin Yvette is absolutely outstanding as Sasha, successfully portraying a character whose cockiness and sardonic quips could easily aggravate some players she was played by a less skilled performer.

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Athena joins the party (not the Greek Goddess of Wisdom and defensive warfare)

In terms of gameplay, dialogue wheels and quick time events are the order of the day, although a smattering of new gameplay mechanics add a touch of individuality to proceedings.

Deviating little from previous Telltale Games’ graphic adventures, the dialogue wheels feature the traditional quarter of distinctive responses that enable you to fine-tune the personalities of the two protagonists. For instance, while Rhys was selfless and considerate during my first playthrough, he was ruthlessly ambitious and self-serving throughout the second, which, in turn, fundamentally changed his relationships with the rest of the group; especially Sasha. Meanwhile, if you prefer to play in a more reactive manner entering each conversation without a particular type of reply already in mind, you’ll be pleased to hear you’re only given a few sections to select your response. As a result, there’s added weight to every decision; you’ll often find yourself wondering whether you made the right call. Accordingly, Tales from the Borderlands possesses a flexibility that’s rarely seen in linear titles. The very nature of the signature choices – the one’s that’re recorded at the end of each episode – can change, depending on Rhys and Fiona’s actions.

Between conversations, action comes in the form of quick time events. As often as not, you’re tasked with simply moving the analogue stick in the suggested direction in order to avoid an incoming attack while, on occasion, you may be required to fire Fiona’s diminutive pistol, choosing the type of elemental ammunition you deem appropriate under the present circumstances. QTE’s might not be to everyone’s tastes, however, love them or hate them, they fit this style of game perfectly. After all, it’s the flowing narrative and inter-personal relationships that ultimately resonate with the player that make these games such a joy to play: shoehorning in obligatory cover shooting sections or esoteric puzzles a la The Witness would only be a hindrance.

A couple of extra little touches here and there ensure the gameplay feels distinctive. Rhys’ Echo Eye provides plenty of opportunities to learn more about the wider Borderlands universe and features a few amusing references to previous titles, whilst Fiona’s money gathering side-objective lets you buy a variety of cosmetic items at specific points during the season and, for those who’re willing to ignore their scruples and accrue as much cash as possible, hire polarising robot Claptrap during episode 5’s final mission (in case you were wondering, I really like the garrulous little guy).

And, with little exploration or unnecessary filler to wade through, Tales from the Borderlands is superbly paced, taking the average player no longer than a couple of hours to complete each episode. Consequently, the game feels neither too short (like the criminally brief The Walking Dead: Michonne mini-series) nor too long.

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Health and safety won’t be best pleased

Graphically speaking, Tales from the Borderlands continues the Telltales tradition of utilising a distinctive cel shaded aesthetic that benefits greatly from the superior power of current gen console hardware. The character models and environmental assets are sharper; the criminal-riddled cesspool of Pandora looks suitably grimy and dangerous, while Hyperion’s orbital headquarters Helios has an unnervingly clean and clinical appearance. The colour palette too is more vibrant and eye-catching than previous TTG titles. Likewise, although the facial animations are never going to be as expressive as the likes of Uncharted 4 or L.A. Noire so long as the developer favours stylised visuals, the PS4 and Xbox One does allow for more faithful simulacrums of human emotions; the best example I can remember off the top of my head is Fiona’s look of disgust as Rhys and Sasha make googly eyes at each other during the introduction to episode 4.

Elsewhere, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the soundtrack, exemplified by the quintet of songs that play during the intro credits to each episode. Episode 3’s Pieces of the People We Love and episode 4’s To the Top are my particular favourites, complementing two of the most engaging and amusing scenes in the entire series.

Not everything about Tales from the Borderlands is perfect, however, much as it might seem from the almost unadulterated praise I’ve showered it with hitherto. Checkpoints for one can be a tad frustrating; on more than one occasion I’ve had to repeat a section of the story, thinking the game had saved before I turned it off. It might seem like nit picking, but I don’t see why manual saves aren’t available if to prevent this from happening at all, especially if, like me, you prefer to parcel out each episode in two parts. Moreover, like previous Telltale Games titles (Game of Thrones: Season One, especially) the frame rate can be a bit ropey during the more action-heavy sections. The climactic battle at the end of episode 5, for instance, during which there are multiple characters on screen simultaneously and plenty of movement, suffers from a variety of performance issues.

Regardless of these minor draw-backs, Tales from the Borderlands is an absolute triumph of storytelling and character design. The core narrative is ceaselessly funny yet compelling, so that, like a good book, it takes a concerted effort of will to stop yourself from ploughing through it in one marathon session. Only the most cynical of individuals will fail to enjoy this wonderful adventure.

But for me, it’s the characters that steal the show. At the risk of sounding somewhat twee, Tales from the Borderlands is one of those rare games that, upon completion, leaves the player feeling as if they’re saying goodbye to a group of dear friends – which is saying a lot for someone like me who habitually eschews human contact.

All things considered, I have no hesitation whatsoever in awarding this superb game a big fat 9/10.

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5 incredible Soulsborne player achievements

Dark Souls 3

Soulsborne players are an interesting bunch. Not content with simply completing From Software’s quintet of tough-as-nails action RPG’s – the series’ catchphrase isn’t ‘you died’ for nothing – a small sub-section of players seem to derive what can only be described as a masochistic pleasure from adding their own arbitrary challenges to make the experience even more punishing.

From beating the hardest bosses without taking a single hit to manipulating the in-game avatar with a controller made of actual bananas (see here for details), the fans of auteur Hidetaka Miyazaki’s 2009 original Demon’s Souls, Victorian-Gothic tale Bloodborne and the Dark Souls trilogy of dark fantasy adventures have performed some of the most unique gaming feats you’re likely to see.

To recognise some of these truly unbelievable player accomplishments, I’ve listed 5 of the most impressive feats to date, including a single entry from each of the series’ 5 constituent titles in an effort to provide the broadest view possible of these wonderful games.

Demon’s Souls – no hit run

Released exclusively on the PS3 back in 2009 – a time when the idea of a tango-coloured, bigoted and bewilderingly unintelligent buffoon leading the free world was farcical – Demon’s Souls transformed the gaming landscape, introducing players to the amazing fantasy landscapes, colossal bosses and arcane storytelling many of us have come to love.

A 30+ hour adventure featuring hordes of brutal enemies and imposing bosses, completing the game itself without destroying half a dozen controllers in frustration along the way is an accomplishment in and of itself for the majority of those who’ve undertaken the task. Not according to YouTuber Miltymilt (let’s players and their silly aliases).

Published only a matter of days ago, this intrepid individual managed to complete the entire game without taking a single hit from any of the monstrosities lurking within the corridors of Demon’s Souls’ dark world, only suffering environmental damage and the enervating effects of certain items over the course of his 3-hour speedrun. It’s true, he does avoid confronting any enemy he doesn’t have to, but it’s an extraordinary display of skill nonetheless.

Dark Souls – Speedrun with no healing or bonfires

Very similar to the abovementioned no-hit run, LobosJr conquered this hair-pullingly difficult game without using Dark Souls’ signature Estus Flask, healing spells or bonfires to rejuvenate his character at any point during his remarkably brief journey (like Miltymilt, this particular playthrough clocks in at around the 3-hour mark).

Moreover, as he eschews bonfires altogether (the game’s checkpoints and the only place you can refill your Estus Flask), his avatar remains at soul level 1 from start to finish, limiting his damage output and stamina pool, the latter of which is vital for both dodging and performing attacks.

A set of high-quality weapons, armour and gear make the challenge slightly more feasible, however, considering I, like many others before me, have failed to complete this game in any form to this day, you can’t begrudge him these little indulgences. Besides, LobosJr has undertaken numerous other self-imposed Soulsborne tests in the past, that make this look simple by comparison as you’ll see shortly.

Dark Souls 2 – Handmaid’s Ladle

In fact, the aforementioned LobosJr makes his second appearance right now in acknowledgement of his novel approach to conquering 2014’s Dark Souls 2.

Perhaps my favourite player achievement, LobosJr successfully completes the game relying on naught but the Handmaid’s Ladle for protection; one of the title’s weakest weapons, possessing the unfortunate combination of feeble base stats and a lack of any magical or elemental effects. What’s more, this particular campaign is on new game +7, which is essentially the hardest difficulty possible boasting as it increases the enemy HP, strength and abundance.

As such, it deals only a few measly points of damage with each blow, even against even the weakest enemies, reducing every skirmish into a war of attrition. To make matters worse, its frustratingly low durability means LobosJr has to retreat to a bonfire every 2 minutes to repair his frail cooking utensil, lest it becomes even less of a threat to the demons and fallen knights who stand in his way.

It must require the patience of a saint and a fierce love of the game to finish Dark Souls 2 under these conditions.

Bloodborne – completed using feet

When I first read of about this a few months back, my first thought was that someone had been patient (or perhaps bored enough) to attempt wonderful PS4 exclusive Bloodborne without using any weapons at all, utilising the series’ standard kick action as their only form of offence instead; how wrong I was. Celesterian Games had an altogether more unbelievable challenge in mind.

While I struggled to simply beat the game, Celesterian navigated the streets of Yarnham and prevailed over his adversaries using his actual feet to control his avatar, wearing socks for at least one of the boss battles and eating during others; I guess confronting the hideous denizens of Yarnham is hungry work.

Whether he possesses freakishly long toes or has spent years training them to perform the complicated task of manipulating a controller, it puts a dampener on the sense of accomplishment I felt when I beat Vicar Amelia, Gehrman and company with my boring old hands.

Dark Souls 3 – level 1, no rolling, blocking or parrying

A simple if no less impressive achievement, my final entry comes from TolomeoR who successfully finished the entirety of the latest and perhaps final Soulsborne game – Dark Souls 3 – without recourse to rolling, blocking or parrying using a soul level 1 character.

With some many limitations in place, TolomeoR was only able to avoid incoming attacks by walking or running out of the way, in turn requiring a deep knowledge of the game’s enemies and some startlingly swift reflexes. But what I find most astonishing, is his decision to forgo the path of least resistance and challenge every single one of Dark Souls 3’s mandatory and optional bosses, including the outrageously difficult Nameless King – an opponent I haven’t even come close to defeating.

Understandably, a feat of this nature wasn’t straightforward. According to the man himself, it took approximately 60 hours of trial and error to complete; 15 of which were dedicated solely to conquering the game’s final boss, the daunting Soul of Cinder.

In future, those that enjoy ramping up the difficulty of already punishing games like the Soulsborne series will have to look to the likes of Nioh, Code Vein and The Surge, following Miyazaki’s comments on From Software’s seminal franchise last year.

According to Miyazaki, the Ringed City DLC for Dark Souls 3 marks his final foray into the fantasy universe he created, suggesting the series might be done for good. However, he did provide a glimmer of hope for fans, saying he’d be happy to pass the reins to another should anyone else one day desire to build on his outstanding work.

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Telltale Games’ 5 greatest stories (so far)

The Walking Dead season 1

Since adapting everyone’s favourite zombie drama The Walking Dead into a sensational, award winning graphic adventure back in 2012, Telltale Games has distinguished itself as one of the world’s finest development studios; one that is now regularly entrusted with globally recognised franchises including Game of Thrones, Minecraft and, most recently, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Where other games emphasise high octane action, Telltale Games focuses on creating fascinating three dimensional characters and engrossing narratives, set within a gameplay framework that’s no more complicated than dialogue wheels and the occasional quick time event. The result is some of the finest stories in the entire history of the medium.

But for those who’ve never played one of these incredible titles before, it can be difficult to know where to start. With that in mind, today’s article lists the 5 greatest stories Telltale Games has ever created; and yes, there will be numerous spoilers from here on out.

5. The Walking Dead: Season Two

Walking dead season 2

Uh, Clementine? You’ve got something on your face…

Set approximately 2 years after the events of the 2012 original, The Walking Dead: Season Two transfers the protagonist duties to adolescent orphan Clementine; a potentially risky decision given her age and the fact that she’s following in the footsteps of Season One’s of the late Lee Everett, but one that pays off emphatically.

Alone in the post-apocalyptic wasteland since losing her previous guardians Lee, Omid and Christa, our young heroine falls in with a group of honest, if somewhat inept and overly suspicious survivors led by the kind-hearted Luke, shortly after the beginning of episode one. The usual depredations of a world infested with hordes of zombies and ruthless bandits take their toll on the group over the course of the succeeding episodes, culminating in a typically gut-wrenching choice for Clementine between the safety of a fortified, though possibly mythical, community further north called Wellington accompanied by grizzled survivor Kenny and new born baby AJ (the child of one of her former companions), or the largely secure mall the group abandoned earlier in the tale together with pragmatic, erstwhile loner Jane and little AJ.

Season Two doesn’t quite pack the same emotional punch as the original Walking Dead or possess quite such a strong supporting cast of characters; the latter of which isn’t helped by the group’s cold and at times inexplicably harsh attitude towards Clementine. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid sequel that features plenty of the narrative-transforming choices that embody Telltale Games whilst successfully developing Clementine’s character into a believable survivor despite her age, and an even more endearing character that makes the prospect of continuing her story in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier tremendously exciting.

4. The Wolf Among Us

Wolf Among us

To be fair, the huntsman had it coming

Based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series, The Wolf Among Us is essentially a detective story set in a fantasy version of 1980’s Manhattan that’s home to a small community of fairy tale characters who’ve left their mythical Homelands in the wake of a tyrannical ruler known as the Adversary. Unfortunately, life in New York isn’t as wonderful as Alicia Keys suggests, at least not for the magical population who’re reliant on extortionately expensive spells called glamours to hide their existence from the humans.

The story itself follows jaded sheriff Bigby Wolf (originally the Big Bad Wolf from the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale) as he hunts for a serial killer who it appears has been preying on a group of fables that’ve had to turn to prostitution in order to survive in this strange new world. It doesn’t take long, however, before Bigby discovers the killer’s motives aren’t as simple as they seem on the surface but are in fact symptomatic of the corruption that’s eating away at the heart of their society.

Like all good crime dramas, the narrative is certainly interesting enough to retain the average player’s attention throughout the course of the game’s 5 episodes, although it’s fair to say the second half of the series doesn’t quite realise the promise of the first. Where The Wolf Among Us does stand out, however, is in the setting. Its portrayal of well-known fairy tale characters struggling with the harsh realities of the real world is fascinating. Georgie Porgie, for instance, is no longer the harmless pervert of the original nursery rhyme having become the owner of a grotty strip club and a pimp besides since moving to America, whilst Beauty and the Beast are finding the vicissitudes of married life, combined with their growing financial woes, are putting a huge strain on their once loving relationship.

Moreover, with its gorgeous film noir aesthetic – it really is one of the studio’s prettiest titles to date – and an understated, evocative soundtrack, The Wolf Among Us deserves far more credit that it usually receives from critics and gamers alike.

3. Game of Thrones: Season One

Game of Thrones

That guy look familiar

They may not warrant more than a sentence or two in the novels, but House Forrester take centre stage in Telltales’ first foray into George R. R. Martin’s incredible fantasy world. Unsurprisingly for a tale set within the Game of Thrones universe, summarising the intricate, interconnected web of plots and sub-plots would be a monumental task in and of itself; suffice it to say, the story lives up to the renowned source material.

Taking place throughout various regions of Westeros and Essos, including Kings Landing, Meereen and Ironrath in the north (seat of House Forrester), Game of Thrones: Season One charts the trials and tribulations of this beleaguered family who’s position in the world has become extremely precarious in the wake of the Red Wedding and the decline of house Stark; their former liege lords. In a change from the usual formula, players control multiple members of the Forrester clan as they try desperately to deal with the different threats assailing them. On the front lines, severely wounded lord Rodrik fight off the intrusive meddling of their rivals the Whitehills, who’re in league with the deplorable Ramsay Snow, that jeopardises their ancestral seat, whilst eldest daughter Mira, handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing, does all she can to promote her family’s interest from the capital amidst a torrent of politicking and black sheep Asher scours the seedy underbelly of Essos’s free cities in search of a trusty band of mercenaries to help him defeat the Whitehills and Bolton’s upon his return to Westeros.

There’s plenty of violence, backstabbing and swearing (though no cel shaded sex scenes, which is probably for the best), so fans of the books or television programme will find plenty to love, along with a beautifully convoluted central narrative and interesting if not totally absorbing new characters. Positives aside, it’s almost worth purchasing the £19.99 season pass just to see the iconic intro credits sequence rendered in Telltale Games’ signature art style, complete with the world-famous main theme playing in the background.

1. Tales from the Borderlands

Tales from the borderlands

Rhys in a spot of bother

I suppose I’m cheating a bit by crowning dual champions, but I really can’t pick between Telltale Games’ two greatest narratives: Tales from the Borderlands and The Walking Dead: Season One.

Currently available at no extra cost for PS Plus subscribers throughout May, Tales from the Borderlands was an absolute revelation when I first played it a couple of weeks ago. Told largely in retrospect from the point of view of joint protagonists Rhys and Fiona – an ambitious middle-manager for the bloodthirsty Hyperion corporation and a charming, resourceful grifter respectively – the story revolves around the search for a vault key; an indescribably rare item that opens the door to a treasure trove of priceless alien technology. Each of the five episodes are simply brilliant, fitting together perfectly to form an overall narrative that’s utterly enthralling; a feat that’s particularly impressive given the game’s light-hearted, flippant tone. But what really sets this title apart is the throng of equally charismatic individuals who assist Fiona and Rhys over the course of their adventure. Fiona’s headstrong younger sister Sasha is fantastic, as are the team’s robotic companions Loader Bot and Gortys, and benevolent redneck mechanic Scooter who establishes himself as a fan favourite despite appearing only intermittently.

Bringing these wonderful characters to life is a script that’s witty and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish, yet poignant during the game’s more dramatic scenes; a cast of voice acting talent that reads as a who’s who of video game voice artists, including Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, Nolan North, Laura Bailey, Dameon Clarke, Erin Yvette and Dave Fennoy; a rousing soundtrack featuring songs such as Busy Earnin’ by Jungle and my personal favourite Twin Shadow’s To The Top and five of the most stylish introductory sequences you’ll find in gaming or any medium for that matter.

Whether you’ve played Gearbox Software’s original Borderlands series or not, I can’t recommend this title enough: it’s simply magnificent.

1. The Walking Dead: Season One

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Here’s Lee

As bleak and dramatic as Tales from the Borderlands is comical, The Walking Dead: Season One is a masterpiece of storytelling. Putting players in the shoes of likeable former university lecturer/convicted murderer Lee Everett, the game kicks off at the very outbreak of the zombie apocalypse that’s reduced the world to an unremittingly harsh and dangerous hellhole full of flesh-eating, undead monstrosities and lawless bastards. Within the first few minutes of episode one, Lee comes across a girl named Clementine who’s been hiding in her tree house alone since the catastrophe began; her parents stranded hundreds of miles away in an overrun holiday resort and her babysitter thoroughly zombified.

Forging a strong father-daughter bond almost immediately, the intrepid duo and a handful of companions decide to head to the coast in the hopes of finding a boat and riding out the worst of the apocalypse from the relative safety of the open ocean, dealing with cannibalistic farmers, mentally unstable survivors and death, so much death, along the way. The challenges facing the group aren’t too dissimilar from those featured in The Walking Dead television series or spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, however, the game’s treatment of themes such as suicide and loss, and the central relationship between Lee and Clementine make it a compelling tale nonetheless.

In addition, it shares many of the things that impressed me about Tales from the Borderlands. The colour palette is dark and evocative, the choices difficult and meaningful and, most importantly, the voice acting is exceptional; Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchison who play Lee and Clementine deserve especial praise for their outstanding performances.

The Walking Dead also gets extra points for the impact it’s had on the gaming industry. True, there were plenty of story-driven games before this particular one released back in 2012, yet you’d be justified in arguing that it was Telltale’s Walking Dead: Season One that put this style of game back on the map and alerted publishers to the potential of the genre. Without it, the likes of Life is Strange and Firewatch might never have seen the light of day.

Fun as it is to reminisce about Telltale Games’s great titles of the past, what excites me most is the studio’s future. Comic book aficionado’s will no doubt be keen to see what transpires in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, while myself and many others are relishing the chance to return to Westeros when Game of Thrones: Season Two releases at some point in the near future.

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Metal Gear Solid’s 5 best boss battles

Metal Gear Solid image

The Metal Gear Solid series is one of the most distinctive in the history of gaming. Alongside a cast of engaging if somewhat bizarre characters and a game world that so perfectly blends real life with science fiction, there are a number of smaller elements that combine to produce something wholly unique. The lengthy cut-scenes, cardboard boxes and heart-wrenching lamentations of Colonel Campbell whenever Snake is killed in action, for instance, will be fondly remembered by veteran players.

But for me – someone who’s been following Snake on his adventures ever since the original Metal Gear Solid released on PlayStation in 1998 – one of the franchise’s most interesting and at times innovative features are the boss battles.

With dozens of encounters to choose from, identifying the 5 that best demonstrate the brilliance of the series wasn’t an easy task. Nevertheless, the quintet recorded here will, I believe, satisfy Metal Gear Solid fans of all tastes.

5. The Boss – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Set amidst a meadow of snow-white blossoms and absent of the rousing score that usually accompanies a Metal Gear Solid boss battle, the final confrontation of Snake Eater (my favourite game in the series, in case you were wondering) is one of the most profound not just in MGS3, but the entire series and, perhaps, gaming in general.

Notwithstanding her mentor/pupil relationship with Snake, the drama of their encounter is only heightened by the discovery that the aptly named ‘Boss’ isn’t the traitor she seems to be at the beginning of the game, rather, her defection to the Soviet Union (the enemy, obviously; the game is set in the 60’s after all) was actually part of a convoluted plan formulated by the US to allow them to reclaim ‘The Philosophers Legacy’; a sum of $100 billion collated by the eponymous ‘Philosophers’ to fund their illicit endeavours. Unfortunately, Colonel Volgin – Snake Eater’s real antagonist – launches a nuclear attack during the game’s first mission, blaming the incident on the US. As a result, The Boss is compelled to sacrifice herself to Snake; America feeling this is the only way to prove their innocence – it’s a complicated story.

The fight itself, meanwhile, is similar to those preceding it, in that players have the freedom to adopt a lethal or non-lethal approach to the battle and are compelled to rely on the game’s camouflage mechanic to overcome the highly-skilled ‘Boss’. So far, so normal. However, once Snake’s erstwhile friend is defeated and the standard post-skirmish discussion is completed, the action is suspended until the player and thus Snake chooses to finish the job with a final, echoing shot from The Bosses signature weapon, ‘The Patriot’. After this tragic denouement, creator Kojima ramps up the emotion yet further as the field of pristine white flowers suddenly erupts into a sea of crimson red, symbolising the violent end to their relationship.

4. Fatman – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Changing tack altogether from the theatrical nature of the former, the Fatman boss fight from Metal Gear Solid 2 is a textbook example of the series’ wonderfully singular style. Before the actual battle begins, the suitably corpulent Fatman immediately sets himself apart from other boss battles with his large green bomb disposal jacket and the glass of red wine he readily downs during the usual pre-fight badinage. Oh, and he’s wearing roller skates: yes, it’s as preposterous as it sounds.

With the preamble’s out of the way, Raiden – the controversial replacement for Solid Snake – must start by disarming the handful of bombs secreted throughout the battlefield by the portly demolition expert whilst simultaneously dodging Fatman as he zips around the field taking pot shots at protagonist the player with his trusty SMG, guffawing manically all the while. Having disposed of the C4, the contest becomes pretty straight forward, the player simply alternating between taking cover behind one of the numerous storage containers dotted around the elevated platform and returning fire whenever the opportunity presents itself. And given the size of Raiden’s enemy, these openings are pretty frequent.

It’s certainly one of Sons of Liberty’s easier fights and therefore probably won’t give the average player much of a headache, but the character of Fatman – erring just on the right side of amusing rather than stupid – is undoubtedly memorable and provides some welcome light-hearted relief from the story’s more severe concepts.

3. Ray – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Nostalgia and wish fulfilment unite to make this otherwise mediocre boss fight into one of the most enjoyable in the whole series. Set amidst the ruins of Shadow Moses – the location of Snake’s very first mission back in 1998 – the fight against Metal Gear Ray differs from past confrontations between man and machine. Instead of pitting his experience and skill against this imposing bi-pedal tank, the prematurely aged Snake (the cause of his expedited maturity having been explained earlier in the narrative) fights fire with fire as he himself pilots the iconic Metal Gear Rex from the original Metal Gear Solid.

Armed with the full suite of weaponry that anyone who finished the 1998 classic will well remember, the clash of these titans showcases the spectacle that is such a huge part of the series, thanks in no small part to the booming score that accompanies the fight and the gradual destruction of the battleground itself as the two colossal mechs launch barrage after barrage of high-powered ordinance at one another.

Again, it’s not a particularly challenging clash; a few well-placed salvos from the Rex’s missile launcher should be enough to bring down Ray within the space of 10 minutes. But it’s this relative simplicity that makes it such a pleasurable encounter, giving players the time to relish the experience of controlling Rex whilst drinking in the delightfully familiar surroundings many will remember from their childhood; rendered faithfully by the PS3 in clear and crisp high definition.

2. The End – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

I’m not ashamed to admit it, I must have spent a good hour slowly wearing The End down the first time I fought him back in 2004. For me, the indescribably tense game of cat and mouse between Naked Snake and this nonagenarian, technically deceased sniper was an incredibly protracted affair as I flitted between whatever cover the jungle afforded, my teenage self dreading the report of his sniper rifle any time I had to switch position or scour the underbrush for signs of my adversary; a sense of tension that was only increased by the sheer size and complexity of the battlefield, and the seemingly benevolent sounds of chirruping birds and groaning frogs that serve as the soundtrack to the skirmish.

Now obviously, that’s not typical of this confrontation; there are plenty of people on YouTube who’ve beaten him in 15 minutes without too much trouble. Still, thankfully for me and others of similar skill, developer Konami saw fit to provide the player with a couple of workarounds that essentially allow you to bypass the encounter entirely. Firstly, it’s possible to launch a pre-emptive strike at the climax of a cut-scene earlier in the narrative. As The End’s wheeled away from the aforementioned discussion, players with sufficiently quick reflexes have just enough time to take him out in a couple of shots; the only danger is the wheel that hurtles towards the player’s area of concealment once the underhanded deed is done. It’s my favourite method for defeating this difficult enemy and the one I’ve utilised on all subsequent playthroughs.

Alternatively, if you find such an action somewhat reprehensible (I don’t), you can wait for him to die of old age; seriously. By saving your game shortly after the standard battle begins and leaving your current file untouched for a week thereafter, upon your return, you’ll find The End has died of waiting his fate confirmed by a quick codec call from Snake’s supporting crew who award him the victory by default. It might be a bit long-winded, but it spares you the hassle of meeting the decrepit sniper mano-a-mano as well as displaying the brilliant sense of humour that permeates the entire series.

1. Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid

For many fans, this is the pre-eminent battle in the entire series. Indeed, you’d be hard pushed to find a boss battle in any game that’s quite as innovative and unique as this fight from the first Metal Gear Solid.

Before you even have the opportunity to fire your first shot, Snake is treated to an exhibition of Psycho Mantis’ powers. The gas mask-wearing academic kicks things off by triggering the rumble pack inside the player’s controller, showcasing his telekinetic abilities specifically. After this novel introduction, he proceeds to ‘read your mind’ by naming some of the other PS1 titles stored on your memory card as well as the frequency with which you’ve saved your game hitherto. The cherry on the icing on the cake, however, emerges once the action commences and the player discovers the only way to actually damage Psycho Mantis is to plug their controller into the second port (unless you use the long-winded tracer shot method which I won’t go into here). When first released, players without an internet connection had to repeatedly badger Colonel Campbell via the codec until he mercifully decided to throw Snake a bone and reveal the key to success.

From this this point onwards, the fight is pretty straightforward, yet 20 years after the its release, this battle doesn’t fail to impress. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt Hideo Kojima’s mastery of game design; his ability to use all the tools at his disposal to create ground-breaking features and mechanics in a way few others in the industry can replicate.

Regretfully, since Kojima’s well-publicised split from Konami, it’s possible we won’t see this level of craftsmanship ever again in the Metal Gear Solid series; in fact, if Metal Gear Survive is anything to go by, we’re in for a steady decline going forward. Still, at least we have the auteur’s first solo project – Death Stranding – to look forward to in the not too distant future.

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Firewatch – Review

Firewatch image 2

Firewatch is a PS4 exclusive

Beautiful and breathtaking, witty and poignant; Firewatch is an absolute joy to play. But more than this, it’s a banner title for the graphic adventure genre; one that validates this often overlooked style of game. To be honest, my only real criticism of Firewatch – released worldwide February 2016 for PS4 and PC and developed by Campo Santo – is, simply, it’s over too soon.

Set in the idyllic Shoshone national park, Wyoming, during the summer of 1989, the roughly 5-hour story puts the player in the shoes of jaded 40-year-old Henry, who’s recently taken a job as a fire lookout in one of the many isolated towers dotted throughout Shoshone’s unspoilt wilderness. After a short, semi-interactive opening sequence detailing the events that led to the weary protagonist’s current vocation, we’re introduced to Delilah; Henry’s boss and sole point of contact during the long season ahead, a person he can only reach via a pair of walkie-talkies (remember them?). Sadly for Henry – though fortunately for us – his quiet solitude is interrupted almost immediately by a series of seemingly unrelated mysteries which force him and Delilah as the only people present at the time to try and discover the cause of these strange events. From start to finish the story is relentlessly intriguing, causing the player and Henry himself to question everything that takes place throughout the course of Firewatch’s narrative. This sense of confusion is exacerbated by Henry’s utter isolation and inability to discuss his experiences with anyone except Delilah; a woman he’s never actually met face-to-face; a woman he barely knows. These two features, so effectively utilised throughout, perfectly display the both brilliance of Campo Santo’s choice of setting and skill as storytellers.

As engaging as the plot is, however, the relationship between Henry and Delilah is the real highlight in a game overflowing with class. The exceptionally written dialogue elicits a vast array of emotions from the player and is performed with aplomb by Rich Sommer (Henry) and, especially, Cissy Jones (Delilah). Alongside the glib remarks and the genuinely amusing back-and-forth exchanges between the two protagonists, the game is more than able to deal with serious concepts such as self-image in a considered and thought-provoking manner which is even more impressive given the brevity of the narrative. Of course, like all such point-and-click adventures, the player has a certain level of freedom to alter the nature of the relationship between Henry and Delilah and thus, to a certain extent, the course of the narrative itself through the use of its primary game mechanic: dialogue trees. This mutability provides Firewatch with a degree of replayability, so often absent in many more linear, action-orientated titles and results in two of the most authentic, compelling and fully-fleshed characters in recent gaming history.

Firewatch image 1

Attenborough would have a whale of a time at Shoshone

From a gameplay perspective, despite its lack of combat, RPG-esque character development or even basic puzzles which story-driven games these days often incorporate to attract a wider audience of players, it’s important to remember Firewatch is a game. As well as the familiar, reactive dialogue trees mentioned earlier, there’s an added level of depth unique to this title that should please all but the most demanding of graphic adventure fans. Specifically, this manifests itself in the player’s freedom to report to Delilah only what seems salient to the mysteries at hand; for instance, should you feel a particular piece of information is irrelevant or you distrust her opinion on a particular matter, it’s entirely up to you how to use this knowledge. Granted, it doesn’t revolutionise the graphic adventure paradigm, nonetheless, it is a pleasing mechanic that increases the player’s ability to fine-tune Henry and Delilah’s relationship and experiment with the narrative in numerous ways. In keeping with the minimalistic gameplay, Firewatch utilises a simple, easy-to-use control scheme, favouring simple navigation that allows you to orientate Henry on the fly, using the directional pad to seamlessly bring forth a paper map and compass, preserving the truly immersive nature of the experience. Outside of the, for want of a better term, main campaign, a surprising amount of freedom is given to the player to explore the topography surrounding Henry’s watch tower; though that’s not to say the park is anywhere near as immense as a standard open world game; nor should it be. As well as discovering various shortcuts that simplifies traversal, it’s possible to adopt a pet tortoise and even take photographs with an in-game disposable camera; pictures that can be printed off via Steam, if you’d like a physical, real-world copy as a memento of your time in Shoshone. All things considered, while Firewatch certainly won’t get your pulse racing, it nevertheless possesses more than enough interactive elements to keep fans of the genre happy and, more importantly, provides a much-needed alternative to the surfeit of first-person shooters and open-world epics that pervade the industry today.

At this point, though I am extremely fond of Firewatch (my unequivocally positive ramblings hitherto should have made this as clear as Channing Tatum’s lack of acting ability) I have to return to my initial criticism of the game: its brevity. Just as you begin to finally understand Henry, Delilah and Shoshone’s history, it seems the end credits start to role, leaving in its wake an acute sense of dissatisfaction and sadness to be so suddenly ejected from the story. I for one would like to have seen Campo Santo expand on key aspects of the narrative or include a few additional short sections of content that delve deeper into the history of some of the park’s previous inhabitants; something as interesting as the rest of the game that would enable me to spend another hour or two with Henry and Delilah. For this reason, I feel Firewatch falls just short of TellTales’ The Walking Dead series 1 or Square-Enix’s Life is Strange in terms of quality.

Notwithstanding this flaw, it would be almost impossible to criticise the art-direction unless you possess a sense of wonder as stunted as Victor Meldrew’s. Designed by artist Olly Moss, the setting faultlessly captures the evocative beauty of America’s national parks and the majesty of such pristine wilderness in general. It’s colourful and bursting with life, yet maintains the sense of isolation which is so fundamental to the experience. Indeed, though heavily stylised in appearance, you’ll never tire of the ceaseless parade of breath-taking vistas, if anything, you’ll regularly find yourself resisting the urge to channel your inner Attenborough and soliloquise on the gorgeous scenery. Elsewhere, the sound design is handled with impressive subtly, with a raft of natural sound effects used intelligently to emphasise Henry’s solitude and the peaceful nature of his surroundings as the situation demands, whilst the sporadic use of music is used to similarly great effect as well as capturing the late 80’s/early 90’s period.

Whether you adore or abhor ‘walking sims’ (as they’re derisively called by some) Firewatch should be experienced by all PS4 and PC gamers who yearn for variety. Though arguably too brief to be considered great, this exceptionally told story with its deep, three-dimensional characters and sublime graphics, produces a game of rare narrative quality that many a AAA title fails to match. Besides, it only costs £14.99 – cheaper than the average nightclub beer and far more memorable.

8/10

John

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

 

A pose even Cristiano Ronaldo would be proud of

 

About 2 months back, I finally bought a PS4 and joined the current generation of gamers enjoying the best console currently available. Therefore, to mark the occasion, I had a choice to make: which game to get first? Without much hesitation, I chose The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt created by developers CD Projekt Red. The following review will be free of all but the minutest of spoilers.

The Witcher 3 is a western-style RPG based on a series of fantasy novels written in the early 90’s by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, set in a world influenced heavily by the great J. R. R. Tolkien as well as traditional fairy tales, creating a distinct identity that avoids plagiarism.

Regarding the game itself, this instalment (the 3rd in the series for those discerning people blessed with the ability to count) was my first foray into the world of The Witcher and engrossed me from the very first minute.

The player takes control of Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher (Witchers being a group of highly trained monster hunters imbued with arcane knowledge, potions and spells; men inexplicably shunned by the civilised world) as he searches the Northern lands for his former ward and adopted daughter Ciri, in an effort to protect her from the deadly Elven race known as the Wild Hunt, who require Ciri’s unique abilities to escape their dying world. During his quest to locate Ciri, Geralt encounters a prodigious cast of unique and interesting characters, including his two love interests; the sorceresses Triss Merigold and Yennefer of Vengerberg. Geralt’s journey leads through numerous side-plots that focus on different aspects of Sapkowski’s world; tales of political intrigue, persecution and love are just a few of the themes explored in these branching narratives.

The gameplay meanwhile, is a brilliant blend of hack-and-slash combat (a style I usually avoid) and strategic, tactical gameplay. Unlike titles such as God of War, however, The Witcher 3 requires the player to master both parrying and dodging, placing as much emphasis on these skills as attacking – simply mashing the attack buttons won’t work. Additionally, two distinct fighting styles and sets of equipment are required, depending on your opponent; should you come up against one of the mythical creatures, such as a drowner, your silver sword and the dodge command are mandatory, whilst the combination of your steel sword and a well-timed parry is the recipe for success when faced with mortal enemies. This simple feature, when combined with a fulsome bestiary of foes, keeps the game interesting and challenging until the end credits (assuming you play on a level above the easiest setting) in a smooth and fluent manner. Complementing the combat system is a comprehensive skill tree, which allows each player to fine-tune Geralt in a way that best suits the individual’s combat preferences. Though, unlike many RPG’s, only 16 of your unlocked abilities can be equipped at any one time, increasing the importance of strategy, especially when fighting tougher foes.

That’s not to say the gameplay is perfect. A moderate number of minor and serious glitches hinder The Witcher 3 on a consistent basis, including one or two rare, quest-breaking errors. There are some systemic issues too. Looting chests and fallen foes can be unnecessarily tricky in certain situations, due largely to the over-sensitivity of the analogue sticks, leading to some rather fiddly and frustrating manoeuvring.

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Geralt fighting an ice giant on one of the Skellige isles

Minor issues aside, arguably the most impressive feature of the game is its sheer vastness. There are dozens upon dozens of quests, tasks and contracts to complete inside a world which dwarfs almost every other game made to date in terms of its complexity, resulting in a purported 160 hours of playtime. Of especial note is CD Projekt Red’s attention to detail; the broad landscapes are thickly populated with an array of flora and fauna which helps immerse the player in the story and bring the world to life. Beautifully vivid graphics that push modern hardware to the limit and high-quality voice acting increase the sense of immersion.

Lastly, there are various small touches that demonstrate the effort expended on The Witcher 3. The sixteen pieces of free DLC available to every player and Gwent, an exquisite card-minigame, are but two examples that suggest CD Projekt Red genuinely appreciate their audience – something FIFA creators EA and other prominent developers could learn from.

To summarise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a phenomenal game that is sure to be discussed by gamers for generations to come. Though I wouldn’t say this is the best game I’ve ever played, it is nonetheless a masterpiece that deserves nothing less than a 10/10.

John

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No Man’s Sky: A Preview

No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky: a Preview

Instead of reviewing a game for my second entry, I’ve decided to write a short post proffering my apprehensions regarding the upcoming release of Hello Games’ sci-fi adventure No Man’s Sky. Much of the response to the release has been unequivocally positive, increasing to levels of childlike excitement every time a new gameplay mechanic is publicised – something I don’t quite understand.

For those who don’t know, No Man’s Sky is a game centred on the exploration of an entire universe of procedurally generated planets and alien lifeforms which, according to Hello Games, gives players the chance to explore approximately 18 quintillion worlds (that is a real number). This, in turn, should allow each and every player to discover something unique to their experience with the game.

As great as this sounds, however, I worry that the difference between worlds and creatures will be far less inimitable than people are anticipating, resulting in something more akin to Spore or a modern Final Fantasy game i.e. a small stock of basic animal templates with nothing more than a simple colour palette swap to suggest diversity and individuality.

The second aspect of the game garnering attention is the freedom to play the game in a variety of styles (which is becoming an increasingly common selling point for games). Although there is a defined goal, in this case, to reach the centre of the universe, the way you achieve it is entirely subjective. You can be a trader, conqueror or scientific explorer as you make your way to the universe’s heart, depending on your preferences. Indeed the developers have stated that it’s possible to complete the main story without once setting foot on any planet if you had such a desire. Titles such as Spore and Heavy Rain, are but two examples of games that have attempted something similar (Heavy Rain in a narrative sense) aiming to give the player complete freedom and the ability to forge a unique experience. Both games fell short, however, eventually delivering something which is no less restrictive in terms of style and narrative than the majority of games, implying the implementation of such a style in video games is something the available technology can’t quite realise at this stage.

Finally and for me, most disappointingly, current trailers show graphics that pale in comparison to other PS4 releases such as The Witcher 3 or Metal Gear Solid 5. Now in a game that’s heavily focussed on exploration and discovery, I feel this is a major flaw. Demo videos showing players traversing interstellar space depict interstellar space in a far less majestic and impressive way than last gen games such as the Mass Effect trilogy. Lastly, the use of a garish, saturated colour palette exaggerates this less than impressive style and makes the animals look like caricatures.

Something that’s definitely not a dinosaur

Ultimately, this isn’t a great disappointment personally as I have a rather large list of games I’m itching to purchase for my PS4 in 2016, however as a fan of science fiction and astronomy generally, I sincerely hope my trepidation proves to be premature and incorrect.

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