Monday, December 31, 2012

Gryzor's Top 5 Best AND Worst Video Games of 2012

With 2012 behind us, it's time to take every video game from then (that I've played, anyway) and compile two lists that glorifies both the best and the worst that was on offer.

The Highs
Let's start positively with a bunch of games that gave 2012 the boost that it needed to keep you coming back.

Spec Ops: The Line
The idea of a video game might've always been interacting with a virtual environment, often with a story tacked on for good measure. Usually when I say a game's story is good, I mean it in the context of it being a video game story - these things are not substitutes for books or even movies and story driven TV shows. However, I'm happy to report that Spec Ops: The Line is one of the few video game stories that can stand alongside books. It has a highly engrossing story about the horrors of war and what everybody else has been glorifying. You may be shooting people, but who are you really shooting? Are you a freedom fighter or are you a bloodthirsty gun nut? Throughout the game, you'll be forced to make decisions to either press on and give the surviving citizens of Dubai two big fat middle fingers, or tell your squad mates to get fucked while you save some Dubaiins from trouble. Each decision is grey as there are positives and consequences no matter what you do. Due to details like this, the story ends up sucking you right in. The gameplay itself is serviceable, even good at times, but it's the story that helps it stand out. So if you're thinking of a story driven experience but you can't code gameplay worth a shit (eh Team Bondi), this game should be a decent enough starting point.

I Am Alive
The idea of being in a sort of post apocalyptic world is something that's somewhat done to death with the Fallout games and Darksiders. But I Am Alive takes that concept and bases not only the story and themes, but also the gameplay around it. It's not about shooting down zombies and mutants and shit; it's about surviving against the odds. Survivors may or may not be willing to let you live if you even register in their peripheral vision as anything that can move. You're not exactly a super soldier either - in fact, you have to use whatever tools you can find in order to find out what's going on. It's a highly engrossing game that keeps you on the edge of your seat, especially when you consider that while the platforming is mechanically like Uncharted (in which a lot of it is done for you), the addition of a stamina meter makes things more intense. If you can't play conservatively, you're going to die. That's how it rolls, people.

Hotline: Miami
It's easy to overthink about this game's intentions - about how it's about the glorification of video game violence and all that, especially with a level where you're not given bright neon colors nor the ability to fight. That level is meant to be crap because it's meant to show us our true nature when it comes to playing video games, and how fucking appropriate is this - you're rewarded points based on how you kill, including the variety of ways that you carry out the killing and the actual method. But look past that pretentious bullshit, and what you have is a fun, fun game about brutally fucking people up! It might have bright and colorful 2D visuals and it might have a top down perspective, but fuck me if it isn't bloody and brilliant... or just bloody brilliant. Perhaps it's the sadistic bastard inside me speaking, but this game is a lot of fun and I can see myself playing this repeatedly because I like to see cartoony heads roll...

Silent Hill: Downpour
Hey, it's my original pick for the game of the year! Fancy seeing you... no longer there! But really, Silent Hill: Downpour is a fantastic experience through and through. It, like the rest of the series, contains a lot of suspense not only with the pacing of its scares, but also the sound design. Daniel Licht may not be as awesome of a sound composer as Akira Yamaoka, but he still manages to compose something that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Also like the rest of the series, its story is one that keeps you compelled to go on as Murphy is a very likeable not to mention relateable character, going through situations that we only barely go through in our minds (fun fact: Silent Hill is basically a manifestation of one's inner demons) whilst trying to keep a level head and not go insane. Due to all of this, combat that can be seen as clunky (not Silent Hill 1-4 clunky but not as fluid as Homecoming's either) and Otherworld segments that can be seen as too trial and error heavy wind up being better seen as elements that are a result of Murphy trying to survive in a fucked up world. This is something I've always believed was lacking in survival horror games, particularly the eternally overrated Resident Evil series - the horror tends to be a result of arbitrary bullshit like tank controls and standing still while aiming. Not for Silent Hill. The horror there resides in the subconscious of the protagonist and his limitations... sorry, I'm just not over the fact that what essentially amounts to SWAT can't aim and run at the same time with fucking pistols while ordinary people like every Silent Hill protagonist can with smaller firearms...

The Walking Dead
Telltale Games, you magnificent bastards! While you guys don't always make hits (Hector: Badge Of Carnage was alright, and Jurassic Park: The Game was abysmal), fuck, when you do, you fucking do! Meet The Walking Dead, a set of five episodes based on the comic of the same name. The idea is to survive the zombie apocalypse and you'll do so by gathering supplies to keep the group of survivors alive whilst fending off the occasional zombie. Like Spec Ops: The Line, the story is most certainly the strongest point and at first, it helps you overlook some mediocre gameplay - the first two episodes feature basic gameplay that only really works in the context of itself. Thankfully, the later episodes up the ante and make things more exciting, even when they consist of pressing certain keys at the right time. But again, the story is what makes it work out so well in the first place! It's easy to get sucked into the whole thing as the writing is fantastic, as is the characterization of the survivors. To put it simply, you'll feel for their situation, you'll like their company while it lasts, and you'll be a little down in the dumps when somebody dies. It's one of those games you'll play over and over again to make different decisions, just to see where Telltale allows you to go with them - yeah, they subtle, but with characters like these and writing like this, it doesn't matter that much.

The Lows
Unfortunately, this year had its share of shitty games, so let's just get this shit over and done with. Too bad it felt more like the aftermath of a meal at Crapdonalds.

Family Guy: Back To The Multiverse
Did anybody at Heavy Iron Studios actually watch this show? I understand that Family Guy isn't exactly the paragon of intelligent humor... or even relevant humor, but this goes WAY overboard! Anything and everything people bitch about in terms of Family Guy's humor, like its irrelevance to the plot, overrepetition or Seth MacFarlane's overly liberal agenda, is found here. These aren't even jokes, they're comments. Instead of making you laugh, they make you cringe. If that's not enough, the game is complete shit. The aiming is flimsy, enemies are batshit fucking insanely stupid, physics are floaty, the graphics are complete shit and overall, the shooting is just boring. It's like a shitty arena shooter if it was way too forgiving with its respawn points... if The Walking Dead can kick ass, so should Family Guy: Back To The Multiverse. Oh, and it's 2012 - we should know how to make good licensed games by now. No excuses, this game blows giant nutsack. The only reason it's not my #1 worst game of 2012 is because... believe me, you can do worse.

Lollipop Chainsaw
Recently, I replayed the game because it was coming up to the time to do one of these lists up and I thought "eh, it can't really be that bad, right"? Well, I'm so wrong that I'm more retarded than Peter Griffin - this game IS bad! Where the clunkiness of combat is ignorable in Silent Hill: Downpour (at least when put into context), it's actually pretty damn annoying in Lollipop Chainsaw because... well, aren't you meant to be pretty fucking kickass at fucking up zombies with a chainsaw? I know a chainsaw is heavy, but still! Oh, and the mini games feel more like an arbitrary means of falsely increasing difficulty, and don't get me started on the quick time event shitfest that is when you control Nick. WHY!? Oh, and the humor is complete shit too. There's wittily written jokes, and then there's "it's funny because they exist", and this game falls under the latter. So no, I don't regret trashing this game before because it's a terribly conceived game that can't even fall back on its style!

Medal Of Honor: Warfighter
I suppose I can understand why Medal Of Honor's reboot deserved a sequel - it was a realistic take on war instead of simply glorifying it like Call Of Duty does. Really, Medal Of Honor 2010 wasn't terrible because its story was pretty good... it was just a bore to actually play it because it honestly felt like a broke man's Call Of Duty. So here comes the sequel - Medal Of Honor: Warfighter (more like Borefighter, am I right xdd), and its story isn't anywhere near as good! Unlike Spec Ops: The Line, it's boring. The writing is mediocre, the storytelling is haphazard at best and it honestly does nothing to capture your attention at any point. Outside of a handful of sequences, it's an extremely unremarkable game with fuck all going for it - at least Medal Of Honor 2010 had a good story!

Blades Of Time
"Oh golly, we have a "sexy" half naked chick on our cover, we're gonna sell millions!" - I'm not sure whether I feel like pointing out its sales figures (frankly, I'd be embarrassed publicly acknowledging having ever owned this shameless piece of shit) or whether to just rip this game a new vagina because holy fucking shit, this game sucks! I've covered this before - it's a boring hack and slash game that doesn't ever make you feel like a badass, nor does it ever make you feel anything other than bored out of your skull. The time mechanic is poorly implemented and feels clunkier than the combat in Lollipop Chainsaw. Buy X-Blades instead.. if you want to, of course; it's not much better, but it's fun at least, and Blades Of Time isn't.

Resident Evil 6
The only Resident Evil game I like is the fourth one. I can appreciate the first game for what it did, but the rest can fuck right off for all I care. Resident Evil 6 is meant to be a push in the right direction as far as action horror goes as you can *gasp* move and shoot. Sadly, this game embodies far too many things that this generation does wrong - the third person shooting, although better than Back To The Multiverse's, is clunky with some sensitive aiming controls, the cover controls are ass backwards, and it does everything in its power to keep on taking play control away from you by either boring you to death with an irrelevant story (Resident Evil's always had a shit story, but this is just ridiculous) or by shoving a million quick time events down your throat. Look, quick time events work either when a game is designed around them or when used for a few sweet action sequences. Resident Evil 6 doesn't have anything resembling a direction in its design, instead favoring throwing shit on the wall to see if it sticks while sticking you in mostly ultra linear hallways, cramming non stop and eventually fucking boring action down your throat. Pacing - what's that? We're Capcom, we're so out of touch with reality that we can make money by slapping a famous logo onto a shitty game - which is what this game is. If it was a no name IP, it'd sell like shit and it wouldn't have such a whiny fanbase... I think that already happened. It's called Quantum Theory! This and Back To The Multiverse are strong, strong contenders for the worst game of the year, but you know you can do even worse, if that's possible.

The absolute worst game of 2012 is...
To think that a game that was released at the beginning of the year would still be a benchmark for utter atrociousness is weird. Like Lollipop Chainsaw, I recently replayed this game just so I can say to myself that there're worse games - this was the worst game of the first half of 2012 and, although the bar had been set lower with Back To The Multiverse and Resident Evil 6... this is still such a wretched game that I can't really put it anywhere else, maybe except in a furnace! I've said it once and I'll say it again - if this is the true survival horror experience, boy oh boy, I am fucking glad it's ceasing to be a relevant genre. It still feels like it hasn't been playtested due to the fact that I've had moments where I couldn't backtrack after dying... when I needed to, as well! The co-op elements are even more forced than those found in Resident Evil 5 and the stealth level... oh my fucking god, after the likes of Dishonored and Mark Of The Ninja, I think even less of this shitty level! All in all, it's a poorly designed game that seems to take the piss out of what went wrong with Japanese survival horror games... YEARS AFTER PEOPLE STOPPED FUCKING CARING AND MOVED ONTO AMERICAN HORROR GAMES!

The absolute best game of 2012 is...
Sleeping Dogs
Like The Walking Dead, Silent Hill: Downpour and especially Spec Ops: The Line, Sleeping Dogs's biggest strength is in the story. Whether it's the writing, the concept or the storytelling, it's all very strong, and its implementation into the game itself is even sweeter than Strawberry Shortcake. Simply put, you're an undercover officer working to destroy the triads, but you find yourself becoming more and more like one of them at the disdain of your fellow officers. It's not just a cover; it's you. The dilemmas faced here in tandem with the events that unfold help keep the game's story as intriguing as possible. That's not to mention the gameplay - move on over Batman and Spider Man, because Wei Shen will fuck you guys up with his killer martial arts right after fucking up rival gangs! Seriously, the hand to hand combat in this game, while a tad easy, is masterfully crafted to work really well and be a lot of fun to pull off, and with unlockable combos earned either through Triad experience points or by collecting and returning statues to a martial arts club, there'll be more at your disposal. There's not much else to say without rambling on for hours and hours than this - buy it. Seriously, this is a fantastic fucking game that deserves your hard earned money.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen - 2012 is over. Overall, it was a pretty weak year. Yes, the best of the best drove the medium further towards storytelling that's backed up by great (or just workable in the case of Spec Ops: The Line and The Walking Dead, though the latter's case is one that can't be helped) gameplay, but the worst games embody quite a lot of things wrong with gaming today - whether they be frustrating mistakes or the embodiment of everything that can go wrong with modern gaming, one thing is for certain, and that's that you better keep a close eye on what you're going to buy. There are some honorable mentions in Mark Of The Ninja, Binary Domain, Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron and yes, even Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2. I wish developers all the best for their output in 2013, hopefully we'll see some more interesting games without going through so much mediocrity. I also wish you guys all the best for the new year and remember - keep a balance of gaming and real life responsibilities so you won't be a fucking jobless hermit!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Beyond Good & Evil
Before Assassin's Creed came in to save Ubisoft from being taken over; before Rayman turned into a party series (until Origins came out); before Crytek gave Ubisoft access to the Far Cry license and made the most immersing but dullest first person shooter known to mankind, there was Beyond Good And Evil, a game that wowed the five or six people who bought it, myself included. Playing through this game is like eating a high class dessert – there isn't a lot to it in terms of its size, but in terms of what's in there, how it's made and why everything was put together the way it is, is why you eat it in the first place, eating it slowly or at a reasonable pace to appreciate what you're eating and feel a sense of satisfaction for having eaten such a tasty dessert. You want more, but you had what you had and it was truly delicious.

Or you could be a pig and shovel it all down!

At first, you'd think that it'd be about the Alpha Sections, the government, stopping DomZ, an evil alien race, from kidnapping the inhabitants of Hillys, but when Jade, the protagonist of the game, is hired by the IRIS Network, they uncover a conspiracy about the Alpha Sections and the DomZ being in cahoots with one another. I can't tell you for sure if it's true or if it's just some wacky conspiracy theories because usually, conspiracy theorists tend to be a bit... looney, so to speak. What I will tell you, however, is that this game isn't above plot twists. Very well written and very well placed plot twists, with just enough foreshadowing to make you question what just happened without it ever feeling like it was there for the sake of being there. Same thing for plot development in general – you're given enough to go by while wanting more until the end, and what you get is a story that you really don't want to finish (especially since the ending is sequel bait... this game performed like shit financially so until the sequel finally comes out, the best you can do is look up fanfiction or something).

Another recipe for success is the characterization. Jade is my kind of character – serious and street smart with a strong sense of justice and a sense of humor every now and again. The way she goes about everything makes it easy for you to want to be rooting for her all the way. Her adoptive uncle, Pey'j, plays out like a typical sidekick in that he's more humorous, but he's also liable for some kidnapping. Double H, somebody you rescue a little into the game, provides more of the slapstick humor – the point I want to make is that these three play off of each other so well that any scene involving them together instantly becomes interesting to watch, and they have enough to them to make them interesting even when they're on their own, especially Jade. Then again, good writing would do that to you. Every bit of dialogue sounds just right for the situation – and as I'll get into much later, it's for that reason that you'll find yourself getting sucked into the game, wishing it would either never come to an end, or at least have a satisfying end... which it doesn't exactly, but it was great while it lasted.

The world of Hillys may not be as big as Liberty City and certainly not as big as Skyrim, but it has all the essentials – points where you'll find the main story missions, a fair amount of side missions, a city with a few shops and an upgrade shop. Side missions range from destroying enemies in caves to racing people and then to taking pictures of the wildlife, and you're rewarded either with credits or pearls for liberating caves, for beating people in races and for taking photos of unique animals (among other things). Pearls allow you to upgrade your hovercraft, which is a mighty fine idea to do because at first, it is a tad unwieldy. It's not that fast, stopping can take a while after you start braking and handling is slippery, and eventually, you'll need certain upgrades in order to progress. Credits are currency, which can be used to buy some items... including some pearls! But beyond that, the sandbox does work as it should, which is as a neat little side distraction between story parts.

But let's step into the main meat of the game. As Jade is a journalistic photographer, her job is to take pictures of anything that'll prove what the IRIS Network's saying is true. To do so, she has to sneak through certain parts of dungeons, meaning that a good amount of this game revolves around being stealthy. It really just revolves around observing basic movement patterns and knowing when to either get going or attack, but it's executed in a way that still works out really well and can even get a bit tricky as you get further in the game because of enemy placement and room designs. Taking down a guard requires you to take out their oxygen tank, but to be successful, you have to make sure nobody else is around or looking at you. At first, the penalty just has them running after you and you have to find a strategically placed hidey hole, but eventually, instant death will replace it. When that happens, the stealth aspect really comes to life and it already started off well enough, if only for the satisfaction of getting to an area full of bad guys... with none of them knowing until it's too late.

You could think of the stealth sections as a type of puzzle you'll have to do, and there are other sorts that you'll need to do in order to progress through each of the dungeons. They tend to involve fetching a few items, pushing blocks (though thankfully it doesn't feel as slow as it does in the N64 Zelda games) and shooting certain targets in order to get to a previously inaccessible area. But oftentimes, you'll need the help of an ally, and they'll be more than willing to help by giving you a boost up in the air or hitting a switch you can't hit via the press of a button whilst exchanging banter every now and again. Ordinarily, I'd find this annoying, but each puzzle (for the most part) feels well thought out, executed and – best of all – paced brilliantly so that it never feels like you're doing busywork even though you actually are.

Sometimes though, you will need to get your hands dirty. The combat consists of three options – a combo and a strong attack with your Dai-Jo staff, and long ranged attacks using discs. It doesn't seem like much and the few enemy types that are out there don't do this many favors, but unlike something like Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, it's not really what you can call a detriment because while Enslaved felt like Uncharted if it was a beat em up, Beyond Good And Evil was a bit more like Metal Gear Solid if it was a beat em up and as such, combat is only used when its necessary to neutralize the guards around you or to fight off bosses. Not to mention, it's pretty cool that Jade can continue a combo on an enemy just behind her, which is very much unlike Dante or Link.

Although like Link (or at least his 3D incarnations), the bosses Jade has to fight are easy to dispose of once you get their basic patten down, which shouldn't take a long time. That's not to say it wasn't fun to fight them because it was fun to find out their gimmick and find a way to use it against them, but you do wind up wishing they were a tad more challenging... of course, I'm referring to a legitimate challenge, thank you very much mr final boss who felt more like a test of my patience than anything that would resemble a fun challenge! Actually, while I have the final boss on my mind, *bleep* the last level! I mean, it's a good level on its own terms, but everything before it was so well thought out and executed that doing constant mirror puzzles and topping it off with a crap final boss battle made the last level feel rushed in comparison (though the last boss is bad no matter what way you slice it).

This game definitely boasts strong production quality, even to this day. In fact, I'd say its a testament to how most stylish graphics tend to age a lot better than realistic ones. While there's a degree of realism in everything, it was clearly finished with a more cartoon-y varnish to give it a more bright and colorful look (which I assume was originally meant to contrast with The Sands of Time's more realistic look). As such, the textures are fairly detailed by 2003 standards, managing to make models and environments look as they should, but the colors are more vivid so that it doesn't fall into that IT'S ALL GRAY AND BROWN look that was starting to pick up at the time with the Medal Of Honor and – I'm not joking when I say this – Call Of Duty franchises (amongst other WW2 shooters at the time). Adding onto the look is the animation. Everything flows seamlessly, especially Jade during combat with all her flips and swings, which keeps it feeling just right even though in reality, you're just hammering the X button. A lot of games tend to rely on complicated combat systems to keep combat engrossing but not this game. Like a good martial arts fight, it's the choreography of the movements that keeps you watching. In short, the graphics are fantastic and some of the best you'll find on the PS2.

But this is the big one – the sound design. The soundtrack consists of sweeping epics that not only compliment the situation – like a fast paced track with hard hitting notes for fights, a more low key exploration/sneaking track or something more lively when you're in town – but is also quite eclectic in nature, making it even sweeter when it really draws you in. One moment, you're hearing some reggae tracks while running around a rather seedy town, and the next moment, you're hearing an epic symphony during a fight. It's that sort of them that can really draw you into a game's world, but that's nothing compared to the voice acting, which is done so well that in tandem with the writing, it really manages to further draw you into the game's world. Each voice suits the personality and look of the character, like it's exactly what you'd expect them to sound like based on just looking at them. Add in the execution, and it's like these are living, breathing beings, rather than models being voiced by people in a studio, and that's the cherry on top of the cake for any game – one whose production quality and story can really draw you in.

Really, Beyond Good And Evil's biggest accomplishment is its immersion factor. The story is very intruiging with some excellent writing and top notch voice work, complimented by an epic soundtrack and fantastic graphics! Bits and pieces are all paced very well so that it feels fresh or that it feels just right, and the execution of each individual element, while simplistic in nature, is excellent. Really, all this game has going against it is a less than stellar last level, a poor final boss and an ending that basically says “BUY THE SEQUEL” as it feels like it ends too quickly, despite being about 12 hours long. It's a crying shame because before all of that lies a game that excels and ascends in just about everything, making for quite an experience. Ah well. It's still a great game, and still well worth your time.

9/10 (Fucking Excellent)

Review: Frozen Synapse

It takes quite a steady hand to make great strategy games. You have to lay out a bunch of options that can help a player make meticulous decisions to aid them in defeating their enemies who may either be complete dullards or about 5 steps ahead of you. I'm not saying "the more options, the better"; what I am saying is that there need to be a reasonably sizeable amount of variables to make each fight feel significantly different, to give the player a wide array of strategies to combat his/her opponents. That's all. Simpler strategy games, in my opinion, don't work that well due to them having a tendency to limiting you to just one strategy. A game like Pokemon Conquest only works due to the amount of fun that it is, but other than that, it's technically a mediocre strategy game due to the limited amount of strategies available (hmm should I rush and attack, or rush and attack - decisions, decisions). A game like Frozen Synapse, on the other hand, is technically brilliant due there being enough variables to give you many ways in or out of a situation without overwhelming you. It's safe to say that I really love this game and if you're a fan of strategy games... you've probably got this already, and if you're not, Frozen Synapse is not all that hard to get into unless you're easily discouraged.

Frozen Synapse does have a story, but all it really amounts to is that in a dystopian future, you're helping a resistance group take down the government, who had manipulated the populace. There is a lot of information you can look up about the world between levels, though its only significance is for your curiosity. There aren't any characters to speak of and nothing too interesting happens... in fact, the only thing worth anything is the lore, but what makes it more bearable is that it knows it's filler. Unlike, say, Pokemon Conquest, Frozen Synapse doesn't go out of its way to make its story the focal point when it's presented with about as much care as a neglected child. Oh, it's there, but it's not in your face. It's there to justify the fighting, especially when you look up the data files. While the story is essentially filler, eh, it's interesting to at least learn about the world of Frozen Synapse.

Tactics is the name of the game. You'll be given eight turns to take down the enemy units, with each turn lasting five seconds, but what really, really gives it steam is the planning phase. During this, you can essentially simulate your next turn. Using what you can see on a randomly generated map, you select one of your units and double click to a spot where you want that unit to travel, and do the same thing with all of your units. You can also mess around with the enemy units to create a bunch of what-if scenarios, like what if that enemy unit moved through the building and then one of your units moves to the entrance as a surprise, or what if you willingly sacrificed one of your units to get the other to mess the enemies up.

But it's not just about moving from Point A to Point B; you can set up waypoints in between and change how your unit moves, either having them crouching behind cover, ignoring everyone or aiming in a direction you think an enemy unit will come from. It sounds more limiting on paper than it does in practice because not only does your opponent have the same options, but their tactics can differ greatly from yours, and one move can change the game in a very significant way. Not to mention that there are a few different types of units - ones with assault rifles who are sort of the everyman kind of class; ones with shotguns who are brilliant at close range but not so much the further away the target is; ones with sniper rifles who are best at a long range; and ones with explosive weapons whose jobs are to blow up walls with enemy units in them (that or for grenade users, trigger explosions a few spaces in front of an unsuspecting enemy unit), so at least there's some variation between them to keep things a bit more interesting, especially if you learn how to seriously kick some ass with whatever combination of unit types you're given.

In reality though, single player is a glorified training mission to get you ready for the multiplayer. It may contain a lot of missions with conditions varying from killing every enemy unit to saving hostages and protecting an area, but the main meat of Frozen Synapse is its multiplayer. Whether it's offline with a buddy right next to you or online with someone from (say) Scandinavia, there's always something to challenge your opponent with as there are more modes to try out and many variables to adjust. For instance, there are light and dark modes. Light modes let you see where the other player winds up at the end of a turn while dark mode only lets you see them if they're in your line of sight. The rest, I'll leave up to you, the reader. The cherry on the cake is that matches are easy to set up - if somebody happens to be online, you can simply ask them for a challenge and hope they accept it. It can be a little annoying when they bail out after accepting, but it happens and it's not something that should ruin your day, especially since you can simply challenge somebody else... if they haven't asked you first. In other words, multiplayer is a dream if you find yourself even remotely enjoying this game.

The game's visual style reminds me of Tron - what, with all the neon colors, mostly consisting of the color blue with some red and green here and there to make things stand out from the blue "inside the grid"-like environments. Thankfully, it's still easy to tell what are considered walls and what's considered waist high cover, indicated by what shade of blue they are within a square or L-shaped outline - the lighter shade being waist high cover and the darker one being a wall. What little animations and effects there are, are also minimalistic and they manage to look effective within the context of being inside a grid.

The calming electronic soundtrack compliments the visuals very well. Not only that, but it also fits the mood of the entire game pretty well, as each of the tracks are composed in a way that can suit the whole quiet and calculated nature of planning your next move with softer beats or even a piano on top of a synthesizer, while having harsher electronic (even dubstep-y) beats for when it's time to move out and either kill or get killed.

It's easy to want more out of this game like more equipment or a better story, but a philosophy I think we should all be following is that a good game is one that achieves what it strives to accomplish, and I believe Frozen Synapse does exactly that. It strived to be a hardcore tactics game and that's exactly what it is. It's also easy enough for beginners to get into as the story mode doesn't start off by throwing the kitchen sink at you, and the tutorial does a decent enough job of explaining the way it all works. So really, unless you don't like tactical games in general, I suggest that you go out and buy a copy of this game right now.

9/10 (Fucking Excellent) 

Review: Cryostasis

Ever since Half Life's release, the shooter formula had since found itself changing a few chemicals to still keep the fundamentals while changing its structure. Instead of maze-like levels featuring heaps of monsters, they're more linear with an emphasis on in-game scenes and set pieces to keep the player immersed into the action while still telling a story. Sadly, very few games actually used this formula the way Half Life did, with the majority just using this formula to showcase explosions and old war quotes often heard in year 8 history classes. Thankfully, we do have the likes of Bioshock, Singularity and this game, Cryostasis, to keep the hope alive while we patiently wait for Half Life 3... and if I didn't make it clear, then I'll do so now by stating that Cryostasis is a very good game... if you can actually play it. Oh no, it's not broken like Action 52 or an interactive movie like Asura's Wrath, but it's more a case of it being a hardware monster – the sort that makes Crysis look like a joke.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. You play as a meteorologist who is on an expedition through the Arctic Circle near the North Pole to investigate an icebreaker. The twist is that it has been shipwrecked for a bit over a decade, but it'll only make for more intriguing discoveries, so the temptation to explore is too great... plus it's warmer than the outside, which is bloody freezing. It's an interesting enough premise as it can reveal some very big spoils and maybe a twist or two that'll explain why this ship is more than meets the eye. Through a series of flashbacks, you'll learn more about its crew and the events that lead to its own demise, and it not only teaches you about the shipwreck but also has you caring for the crew members, making you wish you could save them from dying due to an unfortunate situation.... which you can thanks to the Mental Echo feature, allowing you to interact with a dead body and stop them from dying at the last second. Admittedly, it can take a while for the story to really unfold, but the pay off is more than satisfying, especially the ending. Perhaps it seems confusing at first, but upon a second playthrough, it just starts to click and suddenly, you'll find yourself being able to really sympathize with these characters.

Cryostasis plays like a first person shooter, though it isn't a fragfest like Doom or Serious Sam; it has a more deliberate pace, like Half Life. You will meet the occasional mutated crew member(s) that will charge at you with various weapons like crowbars, axes and even blowtorches, and it becomes a case of “kill or be killed” as they are quite relentless in their assault. They also don't seem to take much damage... hell, they don't even stagger much if at all when they get hit by your attacks, meaning that they can beat the living tar out of you while you try to wind up for a sort of killing blow. The idea is to basically knock them down and make sure they stay down by wailing on them hard enough. Don't think that guns will make things much easier, because even a few shots to the head won't slow these guys down – they're not even human and don't live by human rules.

Oh, and the guns – ranging from pistols to bolt action rifles, semi auto rifles and SMGS - are from the 1960s, so they'll take a while to shoot and even longer to reload, meaning that every shot must count, and given the scarcity of ammo, well, that just drives the point further home. The only good things would be that you can at least attack from a distance and that it consumes no stamina, unlike melee weapons you'll find on the ground or your fisticufs. While it's easy for me to say that combat is very deliberately executed as you'll need to pay attention to your enemy as well as your stamina, it's also really clunky. This is definitely Cryostasis's weak spot, but like any good horror game, it's not all that often, which at least gives them more of an impression than constant encounters. It's a shame that it's the way that it is because the rest of the game is brilliant!

Remember when I mentioned the Mental Echo feature? Well, when you get into one of these, you'll find yourself needing to solve a puzzle that'll wind up saving this person's life. While puzzles can be as simple as stepping to the side so you don't get hit or as complicated as figuring your way out of a room before you drown, a lot of the puzzles can be solved with basic logic, although the means of solving them tend to require some trial and error. However, unlike a lot of games that require trial and error, there aren't any huge penalties as you can reattempt the Mental Echo scenarios as many times as you want until you bring that person back to life. That, and it's the good sort of trial and error where you can either figure it out quickly or not so quickly and feel a sense of satisfaction from doing so, not that bloody “nope, here're some really fast and obnoxiously loud laser beams” crap kind of trial and error where you will almost always die the first couple of times, minimum, and only feel relief for completion! In other words, Cryostasis seriously has the right idea for this kind of thing!

Really, outside of combat, the general feel of the game is just right. Given that the Arctic Circle is freezing cold, your body will gradually freeze up as it gets colder, and the icier your body gets, the less health you'll have. You can't freeze to death, but enemies will deal significantly more damage to a colder body than to a warmer body. To counteract this are various heat sources you'll find throughout the ship. Stuff like lanterns, burning torches, firey debris and even desk lamps (since when?) can heat you up, but this mechanic can make things feel very tense as you can be ambushed at any time and you could be quite cold by that point. Sometimes though, heat sources can be located at very convenient points that'll make combat less tense... though that's not to say you'll not be getting colder during the fights, but still.

This is quite possibly one of the most demanding games I have ever played, requring some real top of the line hardware to get it to run properly. Forget running Crysis on max settings – playing a session of Cryostasis without a decent amount of lag on moderate settings is nothing short of a miracle, and that's if you've upgraded to the best hardware you can find NOW! It's a shame, because this is a beautiful game... err, technically speaking, of course. Maybe a few low quality textures and a couple of jagged edges here and there will be found, but otherwise, it is technically sound. But where it counts is its atmosphere... this IS a horror game, after all, and let's just say that it's got the look you'd expect for a game taking place in the arctic. Halls around you are icy with some snow and even a bit of water here and there, and as you get colder, the screen will get icier and icier. That kind of thing helps immerse you into the experience, especially when you interact with the environment and something happens in it. You hit some icicle and it'll either fall or break apart, or you light up a torch and all the ice around it melts. There are plenty of little details which I assume is the reason why it's such a hardware hog.

The sound design is fantastic. There's no music, but there are more ambient sounds. From footsteps to the wind blowing outside, it manages to keep you on edge as you could find yourself in the heat – you know, that cold sort of heat - of battle before you know it. The more combat oriented sounds, like swinging your weapon or shooting, have a kick to them that adds intensity to any given fight, plus they sound like you'd expect swinging weapons or guns from the 60s to sound like, as if you are there doing all of this. Then there's the voice acting, which is actually pretty good. Usually when voice actors attempt foreign accents, they sound silly or at least off, but either the Russians in this game are voiced by Russians or really good actors because none of them sound out of place, further keeping the immersion factor up.

Despite some clunky combat and demanding specs, Cryostasis is a very good game and what you would expect from not only a game inspired by Half Life, but also a horror game. Most horror games have jump scares with very little buildup, feeling way too action oriented, which is the antithesis of horror. But here comes Cryostasis, a game that reminds the player of true horror – one that is full of tension and expecting the unexpected, and clunky combat be damned, it is a very immersing experience with a fantastic story that you'll find yourself playing repeatedly.

8.5/10 (Great) 

Second Opinion: Resident Evil 6

Oh Resident Evil, your dusty old corpse just doesn't want to be left alone, doesn't it? Especially not from government appointed scientists that want to conduct experiments on the living dead, which explains what Area 51 has really been holding! Resident Evil started off by popularising the suvival horror genre, then it redefined it with Resident Evil 4, and then further redefined it with Resident Evil 5 to the point of an identity crisis. Seriously, Resident Evil 5 wasn't sure whether to be horror or action – at least Resident Evil 4 was more definite with its blend of action and horror. So here comes Resident Evil 6, which makes its identity crisis even worse! I mean, I get what Capcom were trying to do – they wanted to figure out what we'd like so they offered up four different styles. You either play a poor man's Resident Evil 4, a poor man's Resident Evil 3, a poor man's Gears Of War or a poor woman's Resident Evil 4. Admirable idea... too bad that each of them have a bevy of weaknesses.

I could just sum up Resident Evil 6 with “you get to see all your favorite Resident Evil characters alongside some newcomers”, but I'll make an effort to describe the plot. You'll play as four different characters (well, three to begin with, number four is unlocked after playing through the others) and their campaigns begin differently enough before they intersect with one another. Leon from Resident Evils 2 and 4 embarks on an epic quest to get to the bottom of the Neo-Umbrella Corp and their C-virus turning entire cities into zombies after having to kill the zombified president of the USA... alongside newcomer, Helena. Chris from Resident Evils 1, 5 and Code Veronica does his best impression of Max Payne by binge drinking before coming to his senses and heading to China to stop Neo-Umbrella Corp, alongside newcomer Piers. Newcomer Jake, who just so happens to be Albert Wesker's son, is fleeing from the authorities during a C-virus outbreak, but finds himself in hot butter as a monster known as Ustanak starts to relentlessly chase him, and he just so happens to be working alongside our old friend from Resident Evil 2, Sherry.

Yeah, this is sounding like a really bad fanfic. There's no better way to put it; it really feels like a bad piece of fanfiction! To call this a B-grade action movie plot would be an insult to B-grade action movies everywhere. Where there was potential to flesh out these new characters and give the established ones something deeper, there instead laid blanket situations and one dimensional characters giving you no reason to care. It's not even charming; there are poorly validated cameos all over the place and the new guys feel more like blank slates with vague hints of a personality trait, like Jake being a cocky guy or Piers being a Good Guy Greg of sorts. There was plenty of potential to validate this story either like a nice B-grade action movie, a cheesy horror movie or even one where the story is at least compelling. But nope, this is post-Resident Evil 4 Capcom we're talking about here with no Shinji Mikami in sight to direct it into something at least half decent. I suppose if there is ANYTHING that comes across as good, it's the end of Chris's campaign, which helps you actually care for his character, especially after all the shit he's been through. That's.. about it. Overall though, the story was a snoozefest.

Resident Evil 6 controls more like Resident Evil 5 – you're either in running mode or aiming mode, but there's a twist. See, for the first time in the series, you can move while in aiming mode! But it seems like all the work that they put into that wasn't put into the rest of the controls. For one thing, movement feels touchy. To make up for Resident Evil 5's stiff controls, 6 is a bit too loose for its own good, especially when you're in aim mode. It's like tapping the left stick even a quarter of a fraction of a millimeter has you moving a whole step that way, and the same thing goes for aiming with the right stick. Speaking of aim mode, the second big issue is the reticle moving around when you're aiming for an enemy. If you slip and move the reticle away from the enemy, it'll try its best to stay on there... only to slip itself back to the center at the last second. Despite feeling more like a third person shooter, taking cover is more awkward than a shrieking violet. You have to be in aim mode in order to take cover... but you can't shoot whilst in cover. Why? This wants to be a third person shooter – just let it. The final control issue has to do with the camera. Good god, why is it so close to me!? I can't see that much in front of me, and outside of the touchy camera, I can't see anything to the left of me and maybe tinges of things on my immediate right. The sad part is that people will insist that you get used to it. No, these aren't nuanced controls like in early Resident Evil; there are terrible, awkward and ass-backwards controls. It's not all that rewarding to get used to them, anyway.

A lot of the decisions made here are often at odds with themselves. While Resident Evil 6 encourages action via having millions of zombies to shoot down, you're not given enough ammo half the time. No Capcom, this isn't survival horror anymore; it's an action game that's full of action set pieces and zombies. A limited amount of resources isn't a challenge at this point; it's just tedious as all get out as you'll constantly run out of ammo and you're never too sure if a zombie is about ready to die or if it still has plenty of life energy left. For a game that's all about taking an arsenal of pistols, machine guns, shotguns and rocket launchers out to blow zombies apart, you're certainly not given quite enough to work with. Ooh, but you're given a melee attack to compensate... overcompensate would be more like it as you can rush up to a zombie and kick its head off, IF YOU CAN SEE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! A lot of the time, you can rush up to a zombie and try to kick its head off, only to maybe graze its ear or brush aside its shoulder. From there, you lose part of your stamina meter that can be restored with tablets via the real time inventory system. So all that keeps the melee system from being overpowered is the stamina meter and the piss poor camera. Genius ways to balance it out if you ask me!

God help you if you hate quick time events, because this game is packed to the brim with them. I suppose you should expect them throughout the whole game if you started with Leon's campaign, as his opens up... with a quick time event. Actions range from pressing the on screen button when it appears, mashing the button, pressing the button at the right time as dictated by a semi circular bar, and waggling the left stick left to right (thankfully, rotating the stick isn't there). A lot of the events that come out of nowhere give you a small amount of time to react to them, and failure results in starting from the last checkpoint (about 5 seconds before initiating that sequence). It's not just initiated during cutscenes; they also occur whenever you're grabbed by a zombie. In general, the idea is just stupid. Seriously, why are there even quick time events in the first place? So that fratboy douchebags and leering sugar addicts won't get bored while watching a cutscene? Well, here's a big middle finger – quick time events are just a cheap way to extend gameplay time because the game itself is either chock full of cutscenes or is probably an otherwise deathless experience. It's especially insulting when you learn that Capcom added them in because “western gamers like quick time events”. Really? I thought everybody hated them, but I guess everybody praising the likes of Resident Evil 4 and Heavy Rain equated to liking quick time events. Right now, I'm extending a second middle finger and it's squarely on whoever in Capcom HQ misinterpreted us.

There are a couple of salvageable parts – co-op and Mercenaries mode. Yes, it is fun to play it with friends, and it is fun to play through the Mercenaries mode with friends. Big deal. Friends can play Action 52 together and have fun, but that doesn't make it a good game. Even then, it's far from being great as there are plenty of uninspired “puzzles” where you grab one end of something and your mate grabs the other end. It ends with you two either moving it or rotating it. Yawn. Also, player 1 does all the quick time events while player 2 actually has fun either watching you fail or watching the set piece unfold. However, with Mercenaries mode on the mind, that's probably the best part of the game. It's a mode where you have a limited amount of time to kill a bunch of zombies. No terrible story or lame set pieces will get in the way of you blowing off heads, and most importantly, YOU ACTUALLY GET ENOUGH AMMO TO GET BY! Wow, what a novel idea! But Resident Evil 4 also has Mercenaries mode and that is a much better game, so don't get this just for this mode... it's not worth it.

Despite what most people would tell you, Resident Evil 6 doesn't look too good. At best, it looks like a launch title for the Xbox 360 (boy, that was a long time ago). A lot of the textures are there, but they don't really stand out as detailed or crispy. They're a little sharp, but that's about it. The colors are drab and boring, utitlizing dull shades of dull colors like brown and gray with bits of orange and yellow for explosions. The animations are as touchy as the controls – that is to say, they look unnatural and jittery, so I hope you didn't want to get immersed into the game that much... because it won't let you. Oh, and there's screen tearing out the ass with poor lip synching to boot. At least it looks like a current gen game, though even that's a bit of a stretch. Then again, next to graphical Quasimodos like Dishonored and Deadly Premonition, Resident Evil 6 goes from a mildly chubby chick with somewhat bad acne to a supermodel.

The music works well enough within the context of it being an action movie. It's loud, it's dynamic and it's intense, but above all else, it's big! It's the kind of soundtrack that works well with the fact that it's all about explosions and over the top action set pieces that don't know anything about subtlety. In other words, it's forgettable and nothing all that interesting because every other game does it nowadays and this game doesn't do much if anything that makes it stand out. It's not even all that over the top, that's how middling it really is. The voice acting is surprisingly good – despite working with poor, poor dialogue, they still manage to convey a decent amount of emotion to at least try to get you into the story. While it doesn't suck you in, it's the kind of voice acting that still works out pretty well at the end of the day.

So overall, Resident Evil 6 is a third person shooter that really doesn't want to be one. There are too many mistakes made for this to be anything other than frustrating. Whether they're clashing game design choices or horrendous controls is irrelevant because they all make for a rather frustrating time. Even then, that doesn't necessarily warrant the 2.5/10 I've given it – maybe a 4 or a 4.5/10 at worst. Nope, what warrants that low a score is that this is an extremely generic third person shooter. Games like Fracture and Inversion are mediocre, yes, but they at least have good ideas mixed in with their mediocre brand of shooting, and I'll always think more highly of those two than I'll ever think of the likes of this. Resident Evil 6 wants to appeal to the Call Of Duty audience while desperately trying to cling onto the last thread of its survival horror heritage. Ultimately, there's nothing that redeems this game – and don't fucking tell me that I need to give it a chance! I've wasted 20+ perfectly good hours beating all of the campaigns when I could've spent that time playing good games like Daggerfall, Deus Ex, Vanquish and Resident Evil 4 – I don't think I can give it any more of a chance, guys!

2.5/10 (Shit) 

Reviewing and what it means to gamers at large

Nope, this isn't just about reviews, kiddies - Sign Far Beyond also delves into the nitty gritty of the gaming scene, its impact on society and how we interact with one another... well, we'd like to believe that if any of us would write some fucking essays on the matters, but nevertheless, it's essay time! Funny enough, it's about reviewing, or rather, what it means to review. Spending time painstakingly getting those details down that you need to get out in order to encourage people to buy a game or to poke them away with the metaphorical stick - nah, fuck that, reviews are about painting a picture in peoples' heads!

Or if you're an oversensitive fucking faggot, reviews are done by big fat biased meanies! Nyeh, we don't care about reviews, we judge for ourselves! Now excuse me while I throw my money at a JB Hi-Fi store to purchase the latest copy of a game I know I'll get buyer's remorse for and then frivolously justify my reason for playing this shitty game with empty words like fun and cool... because I'm totally happy with my purchase and not at all upset that I wasted $89-119 on this fucking shitty ass game! Fuck you dad, I love Resident Evil 6, it's so fucking fun xdd

With all that aside, it's both easy and hard to see why people hate reviews. It's easy because the so called "professional" critics are more focused on internal and external politics than simply giving their honest opinion on a game. Why be honest and call Dragon Age 2 a pile of shit when EA's paying you ad revenue out the ass? Don't you want to suck on EA's tender, supple penis just for a few extra bucks? Meanwhile, if Koei and/or Omega Force don't give you a hefty enough bribe, then why should you praise the latest entry in the Dynasty Warriors series? Why even play more than an hour of it? I may be making it sound like a conspiracy theory, but unless your ignorance is a result of you simply being too young to understand these concepts yet or you only casually play video games and thus don't really think about what actually makes a game good, it's common fucking knowledge, like how Super Mario Brothers 2 is actually Doki Doki Panic! It's hard, though, because those of us who legitimately care about video games to the point where we review them out of the fact that we not only care about the medium, but also the care of our fellow gamers (good gamers that is - Sign Far Beyond doesn't pander towards insecure shitheels who hate reviews because "omg Jeff Gerstmann hates my favorite game for legit reasons, what a fat biased cunt xd"). We want them to be aware of the qualities - good and bad - that games have and to consider their options before blowing money on something. Hating on reviews is really just asinine bullshit propogated by people who have suffered from buyer's remorse so much that they've gotten used to that feeling.

Having said that, reviews go beyond simple black and white recommendations - while games are becoming more about shallow fun than about actually giving a fuck, the ideology behind game reviewing is still one that's similar to reviewing a niche medium like metal music. The idea is to convey your thoughts in a way that paints a detailed picture. That doesn't mean copying and pasting a fucking Wikipedia article or just telling us what's in the game. No, it means having a fucking opinion on the game itself! Don't worry if you scare some people off by actually offering an opinion that'll conflict with theirs, because those people who whinge about people criticising their favorite games are better off blowing their life savings on uninspired dreck like Asura's Wrath and Resident Evil 6. Let natural selection do its thing... on their wallets.

However you slice it though, reviewing has its rules that must be followed. Show, tell, elaborate and check. You show us what it does. You tell us about it. You elaborate on it with your opinions. You elaborate on your opinions with words that let you paint the picture that you want to paint. You check the paint for spotty details - or in this case, check for factual accuracy and if your opinion actually makes any fucking sense (Lukas elaborates on that here) - and fix them up. Beyond that, go wild! Express yourself in a clear and concise, yet elaborate manner! There is no set structure - only basic rules, which amount to common sense anyway! People who write in a less structured manner get more out of reviewing than those who are essentially mad libbing their shit, forcing themselves to babble on about the same two or three things, and while my reviews have some structure, I find ways to have fun with it. I'm not about simply explaining shit - I also try to be over the top with it, full of swears with the occasional hyperbole, and give only the information I deem necessary whilst trying to convey it in the most entertaining way I can! That's part of the beauty of writing - you can go in many different directions!

"b-but what's the point, I can just torrent this shit onto my PC"

Oh right, almost forgot about those cool kids who steal shit online. Well, at least you get to know if it's even worth stealing! I mean, I wouldn't want to steal Asura's Wrath - why would I be willing to risk five to ten years of daily ass raping and shanks just because I stole a shit game? Gee, we're such good people, eh?

"b-but you guys often have conflicting opinions"

Holy shit, that's almost like *gasp* what I've been saying the whole fucking time!!! Given the mixed reception for Resident Evil 6 between critics, I've deduced that taste is... subjective, as are... reviews! Good fucking god, what a shocking turn of events! M Night Shyamalan, you've outdone yourself there, mate!

And there you have it. Well, I guess you could say I've scratched the surface, but that's kind of my style - I seemingly scratch the surface whilst giving you an entertaining piece of writing, unless a game warrants me making deep, deep analysis visible. I tell you what it does, how it does it, and lace it with hyperbole and humor to keep you reading! Aren't I a nice guy? Meanwhile, somebody like Gryzor prefers to really analyze something and show his more important findings whilst composing himself in a calm manner... unless something either excites or pisses him off. The point is that reviewing is about expressing your thoughts in a semi-cohesive manner, bogged down only by your choice of words and analytical freeze-ups, not by money. We don't earn shit from this fucking blog - we do this shit because we fucking love you guys, and I hope that we can continue to do our part for the gaming community for years to come... until real life makes us work some crap 9-5 job that robs us of our souls with people who are complete faggots that'll rot our brains with their useless garbage and stop us from analyzing games because work just tires us from how monotonous it gets.

*speaking of Asura's Wrath and Resident Evil 6, all four of us are constructing our end of year lists and we're releasing them on the first of January. Whether that's by Adelaide's time zone or fucking Dubline's time zone, who fucking knows because we're lazy shits that do shit at the last minute anyway.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Resident Evil 6

Fuck, this is like the antithesis of what Resident Evil was once about! Instead of deliberate pacing where a bullet unshot is a bullet saved, Resident Evil 6 is an action movie where the main characters dispense bad, oftentimes painful one liners and a metric fuckton of bullets, even though at times, it's like there's never enough of the latter. Meanwhile, explosions are going off every other minute and all sorts of crazy shit happens. More stuff happens, stuff over there happens and stuff over in that direction happens - it's just stuff happening! Goddammit Capcom, I know you want to appease the leering Mountain Dew addicts who're still waiting for their balls to drop, but between a surprisingly good Resident Evil game on the 3DS and a surprisingly good JRPG with heavy WRPG inspiration in Dragon's Dogma, I thought for a second that you might've actually gotten your spark back! But nope, here comes Resident Evil 6 to show us that Capcom only care about money - and I'm aware that all companies only care about money, but good developers at least make it subtle.

Despite my opening paragraph indicating otherwise, I didn't outright hate Resident Evil 6, so much as I was just bored the entire time. While I could attribute that to the game's pacing, a lot of it has to do with the story. Simply put, there's a new virus developed by Neo-Umbrella Corp that's known as the C-virus, poised and ready to infect the entire world. It'll be up to our three heroes Chris Redfield, Leon Kennedy and Jake Muller - wait, hold the fucking phone, who's this clown? Well apparently, Jake has ties to a certain Resident Evil character, so I guess why not make him a protagonist? At least his buddy is an actual Resident Evil character - remember Sherry from Resident Evil 2? Well, now she isn't completely useless as she can fight alongside Jake! She's the only partner to a main playable who had actually existed in a past game - the other characters have partners who we've never met, and even at the end of it all, we never truly meet them. They exist for the sake of existing with no personality and no memorable dialogue. Filler story at its finest.

Instead of having the character stopping in their tracks to aim and fire, it's the game that stops in its tracks to either deliver a cutscene that's more interested in boring you to death than it is in being intriguing or anything worth a damn, or have you watching a set piece that transitions to a lame ass quick time event that nobody asked for, nobody wanted and nobody actually likes. A lot of the time, you'll be mashing (not pressing - that might actually make it tolerable) the on screen button so that you can proceed to the next button in the sequence until it finally decides to be a video game again. But simply existing isn't enough; it also has to be as obnoxious as possible. . Why? Does this make it more exciting? Well, sorry to say, but I was not excited one little bit – maybe except at the prospect of ejecting the disc and throwing it across the room! After the fiftieth time failling because it failed to register a button press that one time, don't be surprised if you lose the will to play on and notice some blood on your knuckles.

Sadly, that's the only time that it's possible to feel something resembling an emotion, because the rest of the game was boring. Pacing is clearly not in this game's vocabulary because while action can be exciting, constant action is easy to get bored of. It's fun to fight a few waves of zombies and, crappy quick time events aside, explosions can grab your attention. But eventually, it becomes tiresome because that's all there is. Every thirty seconds, there's shit happening (or not happening because it's story time) and then you'll need to go through a quick time event. Every encounter consists of shooting groups of zombies. There's no time to reflect on the events that have transpired because as soon as one big, loud event ends, another one begins. Flow is also not in this game's vocabulary because you go through a batch of zombies, only to then either watch a cutscene or go through a quick time event, both of which disrupt the flow of gameplay as they stop you from actually interacting with it. That's what I hate about modern gaming – its insistence on playing itself, which is some Resident Evil 6 loves to do.

But really, what else is there to the gameplay? Oh, you can move and shoot now? Goodie, what a step forward! But what's this, you have to draw out your gun before you're allowed to duck into cover? Fuck off! Seriously, in what world does this work out to be convenient or good? What's wrong with a simple “duck into cover” button that every other third person shooter has? Everything else this game does is what other third person shooters do – a cover system; an over the shoulder camera (that's way too far zoomed in); iron sights; a variety of guns involving pistols, shotguns, machine guns and exlosive guns; and stop-start pacing. Oh, and a jumping dodge roll kind of thing. Can't forget that. Whoops, almost forgot co-op. Always have to have a mate with you – whether it's a competent AI controlled partner that's indestructible with infinite ammo (I'd make a joke here, but AI is actually one of the hardest things to program right), or your mate (either on the couch with you or out in Russia), whatever, it's always great to be with friends, right?

At a certain point, you have to question whether this was an honest effort or some elaborate parody of third person shooters because there's no way anybody, even a new developer (let alone Capcom, what was once one of the greatest developers out there), would be so willing to be this content with mediocrity. It's like the ultimate in laundry list shooters – I'm surprised there's no half assed gimmick like terraforming or gravity, it's that by the numbers. What, am I supposed to think that this real time inventory where you can convert herbs into tablets (and in a decision influenced by really wanting to stand out, you can have all the herbs, guns and bullets in the world, but only three tablets, which are made with herbs), an overpowered melee system where you can rip zombies in half with a roundhouse kick and only having so many bullets to barely scrape by as the gimmicks to make the player think that they're not playing a by the numbers shooter? I don't know, maybe I've been getting so bored by this game that thoughts about its intentions and why it's the way that it is just seem to pop up like morning wood.

But then you start thinking about the little things that just make little sense. Like how come am I getting shit all in terms of ammo? Most good action games give you a lot of ammo, but here comes Resident Evil 6, giving you maybe enough ammo for a couple of shootouts. Had it not been for the fact that you can pretty much flick a zombie's head off with the melee system, the zombies would surround you and eat you up. Seriously, if it wasn't for the stamina guage and the somewhat sluggish melee controls practically requiring you to be pretty close (closer than you'd expect but thankfully, it's not like you have to be on this magic fucking pixel so it could be worse), you could just go through the game fucking up zombies with your razor fists and legs of steel that'd make Kenshiro from Fist Of The North Star go “damn, he'd fuck me up”. Oh and you're practically made of steel as you can take heaps of damage and there are a fair amount of herbs that could be made into tablets that not only restore health, but also stamina. Unless you have no hand eye coordination, this is a piece of piss.

I always find it amusing when people say that Resident Evil 6 looks good because it actually doesn't. It looks alright, but there's definitely room for improvement (kind of like the whole game, really). For starters, some of the environments look fine, but others look like something out of an early PS3 game. The textures aren't quite sharp enough, some things are a bit too blurry when it should focus on them during cutscenes, and the colors, despite looking vibrant, are pretty dull... just oversaturated in an effort to make it look vibrant. The animations are odd as while they move alright during cutscenes, they walk like zombies in-game despite their bodies moving at human speed. Aesthetically pleasing, but it could be better.

And god fucking damn, what is up with every fucking action game and “epic” “sweeping” symphonics for their soundtracks? Yes, I get that it's big, bombastic and all this crap, but isn't it sort of wearing itself thin now? I suppose it fits the fact that it's big and exciting with all these explosions and whatnot, but that's it. The voice acting fits – it's nothing impressive, but for what it does, it works out well enough.

Really though, Resident Evil 6 is a pretty mediocre game that leans more towards being shitty. As a Resident Evil game, it doesn't even register, but on its own terms, slipshot controls, quick time event overkill and a constant need to play itself are surprisingly not enough to kill this game. Piss you off, yeah, but that's it. Otherwise, it's a pretty boring third person shooter that's, for the most part anyway, technically competent and rather inoffensive. If you hate having play control constantly taken away from you, avoid this like Cronos avoids a decent haircut, but if you want to play what essentially amounts to Lost Planet: Undead Nightmare, eh, I'd give this a cautious recommandation and instead advise you to just play Lost Planet.

4/10 (Below Average)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

Folks, I love me some platforming action, but I also like it when a game's elements compliment the design of a game. While I really enjoyed my time with the first Ratchet And Clank, there were a few things that could've used some work. Well, that's what a sequel is for, so meet Ratchet And Clank: Going Commando. It basically takes the first game, tweaks the engine and adds a fair few things to make things more interesting. Incidentally, it's a massive improvement over the original... so much so, that going back to the original won't be an easy task after all that's said and done here, and the first game was good! That, my friend, is the hallmark of a great sequel.

After their first adventure, Ratchet and Clank are getting interviewed about what they've done since defeating Chairman Drek. Once a faraway galaxy catches the interview on their airwaves, Abercrombie Fizzwidget teleports them from their galaxy to his, the Bogon (oh god) Galaxy. He gives them the task of retrieving an experimental creature known as the Protopet from a thief. Seems simple enough, but there's more to this experiment than meets the eye. Oh, and there's a group of mercenaries known as Thugs-4-Less that chase Ratchet and Clank down for most of the game. While it's easy to give this game shit for not having a central villain unlike the first and third (and vicariously, eighth) games, like with a lot of NES game sequels, there wasn't an established formula outside of the basics of the first game. That, and we're treated to a rather interesting story. That isn't the say that the first game's wasn't that interesting because the interaction between Ratchet and Clank, as well as the plot twist about a third into the game actually kept on making me want more. But this one went above and beyond with its new characters and plot twists. It's one of those stories that makes you wonder what way it can twist next while they're all being pieced together, making for a very interesting experience.

The first game was good, but it was rough around the edges. Thankfully, this game irons said edges out. Ratchet's movements, particularly his turning, is a lot smoother and more fluid, making him easier to control. But the big thing is strafing. Holding down either R2 or L2 allows Ratchet to strafe, which makes aiming in the third person while moving infinitely easier to do. Action is no longer stop-start so you can get the right aim or you relying on getting the right angle as you're running; now, it keeps going, dodging is a lot easier as flips have you holding those shoulder buttons and pressing X, and IF the enemy moves away from you, all it takes is moving the camera around so you can get a better aim. Let me just say that once this clicks into motion for you, you'll have a hard time going back to the first game.

Your arsenal of weapons this time around kick ass! You get a pretty good variety, like a machine gun, a bomb gun, a rocket launcher, a glove that lets you throw turrets and all sorts of weaponry that blows or at least shoots shit up. Each weapon has their use, like the turrets and four little robots being able to back you up and the rocket launcher does well in blowing enemies up. At least you won't be stressing out when the rocket launcher is out of ammo because you have heaps of other weapons to use, like a bomb launcher that splits up into smaller bombs once it blows up (best weapon in the game, by the way – does heaps of damage and the little bombs do that little bit more to take down survivors). It's not like the first game where there are only like three good guns in the entire game – indeed, every gun is useful if you know what you're doing with them. It's a good idea to save up on bolts – the universe's currency – because goddamn, these weapons get expensive! There are some opportunities to earn a metric fuckton via collecting crystals, destroying enemy ships in outer space and winning arena matches (either fighting a boss or killing gangs of enemies under conditions like only using a weapon or under a time limit), so when you need to, hit them up!

It gets better with the weapon upgrades, and I'm not just talking about some add-ons that you'll find on certain planets like poisonous shots or lock on mods (which cost Platinum Bolts that you'll find in worlds if you explore around a lot); I'm talking about evolution, which comes with killing a lot of enemies. As you kill enemies with a gun, said gun will gain experience points and after gaining enough, it'll evolve and be a lot more powerful. Oh, and the more enemies you kill period, the more experience points you'll get, and with enough of them, you'll gain an extra bit of health! Man, this just makes the game so much more exciting! 

Err, well, not all weapons benefit from evolution – meet the Lava Gun. In its base form, it squirts out a stream of boiling hot lava, but once you upgrade it, it shoots balls of fire. It may be more powerful, but it's not nearly as useful as it was the constant streaming that made the Lava Gun awesome! I'm giving it its own paragraph because the Lava Gun, although not as powerful as the more explosive weapons, can get you out of several jams against small and medium sized enemies, while its evolved form can't. That, and it teaches us a valuable lesson about evolution – sometimes, when a new trait is gained, something has to be given up to balance it out.

This game is surprisingly hard – not like Demon's Souls hard or anything, but certainly hard by Ratchet And Clank standards. Let me explain - the first game was easy and nowadays, the only difficulty would be getting used to the archaic controls; the later games are also pretty easy because the weapons upgrade more and more, becoming overpowered, and their arsenals are unbalanced to begin with! But this one gets it right if you want a challenge because enemies will either swarm you or fuck you up with strong attacks, especially as you get towards the end.

The final boss though, I regret to report, is a piece of piss. The level preceding it is a gauntlet of tanks and robots with high powered missiles that'll force you to conserve ammo for your stronger guns and flip around a lot to not get hit whilst using a gadget that lets you control certain robots so you can open up barriers (whilst praying to god it doesn't get blown up by enemies while it shoots them down), but the final boss is unbelievably easy to read and is easily destroyed if your aim is good. Actually, a lot of the bosses are like this, although they are a bit faster and sturdier, plus you wouldn't have half the weaponry you'd have against the final boss. Doesn't stop the fights from being fun and thankfully, it's not mind numbingly easy, but it can be a bit disappointing when the levels are harder than the bosses. Thankfully, when you play through the game again on the Challenge mode, it certainly lives up to that name – it is, indeed, challenging. But it's more rewarding as you'll get twice the bolts you'd normally earn (which is still a decent amount)... as long as you kill an enemy and don't get hit. It especially helps if you plan on getting everything, as there'll be even stronger forms of weapons for sale... for 200000+ bolts! Bloody fucking Jesus, it's a good thing you can earn heaps during the challenge mode!

Unfortunately, there are some flaws beyond the somewhat disappointingly easy bosses. Space combat is a great idea, but the execution isn't all that. It mainly comes down to the controls, which take more time to get used to than they should. It feels both fidgety and stiff, making movement trickier than it has any right to be. It especially makes the racing side missions a pain in the ass as you have to go through rings without missing them or crashing. Beyond that, it's fun blowing up ships. Hoverbike racing has a similar issue, but thankfully not to the same extent. Perhaps it's touchy and like any weapons based racer, luck plays into it quite a bit when dodging homing rockets, but they're pretty high octane and fun to go through. Small shit like that doesn't hurt the game, but it is noticeable enough to not be as fun as when you're controlling Ratchet on the ground.

A legitimately shit segment is anything involving Clank. Yep, he's back as a playable character, and like washing the dishes, it's all a chore. The idea is to find Gadgebots and have them unlock doors, though they can also attack enemies and it's actually a lot better because Clank can only take four hits. While there are additions like bridge bots, ground pound bots and hammer bots, nothing about these segments exactly shout awesome or anything. Just feels like it slows down the action, and not in a good way. But that's nothing compared to when he's giant! In these segments, you'll have to take down a giant robot, and while the idea sounds great, the execution blows, simply because it takes forever to destroy them. After a while, watching paint dry starts to sound like a better alternative, especially since they like to keep moving away from you whilst it sics its lackies onto you! Thank fuck for there only being three times that you have to do those sections.

The graphics are nice and colorful. To say that it's like a 3D cartoon is pretty damn accurate. There's plenty of movement to be found, and it's all pretty damn fluid. Maybe it moves a little too fast sometimes, but it's nice to know that there's a lot of movement to keep your eyes on the screen and the given the smoothness of the animation, it works pretty damn well. The textures are just as smooth. Not necessarily detailed or anything, but there's enough there to showcase detail whilst still looking cartoony. The colors are fucking good! Explosions are bright and beautiful.. actually, pretty much everything here is, but the explosions are the best. If there are any flaws, it'd have to be some occasional slowdown during combat, especially when you level your health up.

The sound design is also pretty damn good. James Arnold Taylor replaces Mikey Kelley as Ratchet from here on out, and as Ratchet had matured somewhat since the first game, James's more serious vocals are more fitting than Mikey's “whoa dude that's some bodacious pizza bro” vocals from the first game. Everybody else's voices work in that cartoony kind of way that works well with the visuals, plus it's technically good enough to get you into the story. I want to say the music is more ambient than melodic, especially given that there are symphonies that make boss fights big and explosive (a couple in particular really stand out as epic), but a lot of the soundtrack is just forgettable and exists for the sake of existing. 

Bottom line: It's funny when people say that it's more of the same, because that's about as far from the truth as it gets! Ratchet And Clank: Going Commando is a significant improvement of a game that really only needed smoother shooting controls and more interesting fights. Unfortunately, there are some problems to be found with the segments where you're not controlling Ratchet himself, especially if it's Clank that you're controlling. But the big jump from the first game to this outweighs the clanky crap, and even if there wasn't that huge jump, it's still heaps of fun to play, it's all exciting and it puts you in a good fucking mood before you have to do what you have to do outside of video gaming.

8.5/10 (Great)