Skyrim is here…

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Preview
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Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!

Skyrim arrived on our shores last Friday (a really crap time as that was just before a busy time for me meaning no game time) and is already selling by the bucketload.

So, what does someone who got dragged into this current generation of consoles by Oblivion think?

2 feeble hours in and already feeling the world drawing me close into a loving embrace.  Effectively, it plays in a v similar manner to Oblivion with a few elements that worked in the recent Fallout games making an appearance.  V stylish presentation, graphics on XBOX (thanks to a day one patch) are settling down to ‘wow’ level.

Music just as soaring as ever and also impressed by the background SFX, not sure if I’m reading too much into this but my footfalls and armour sounds whilst walking / running seem to match what I’m wearing.

Already started my OCD-like searching of every barrel and burial urn.  Found not 1,2,3 but FOUR cabbages in one barrel.  Snag a rodent whilst practising with my newfound bow and…bang…I’ll have a casserole!

You owe it to yourself to have a vacation in Tamriel, even if you don’t usual play these types of games.  Can’t wait to get back…

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‘Listen up gentlemen.  It’s a war out there.  We’ve got those Activision guys raining down annual s@!tstorms on us and it’s time we responded.’

‘What’ll we do, sir?’

‘Time to go back to DICE actual, unleash the Frostbite 2…’

OK, had a week with this title and I’m feeling…….decidely underwhelmed.  I’d like to start off by likening the whole EA vs Activision thing to the Haye / Klitschko fight a little while back.  In one corner you have the champion, plodding along consistently with nothing that exciting or new to declare and, in the other, you have the spunky challenger, full of  promises and expectation. Telling you what you’d been missing, how things were going to change….remember how that fight ended?  Pretty much the same here for me.

I put the blame at the door of reviewers who, due to the influx of games in this mad season, are going a little overboard in their praise of the triple A titles (UC3, I’m also looking at you but more about that next week).  With all the fanfare, Expo awards and initial reviews you’d have thought this was the second coming of FPS.

It isn’t.

Not to say that this is a bad package.  Single, multi and co-op players are all correct and present, dedicated servers are in place, the mighty Frostbite 2 engine is driving things along… but it all still seems a bit unfinished and broken in places.  Which is amazing when you think of how much EA has riding on this at least matching the CoD behemoth.

Okay, single player.  Nice opening sequences,  very gritty and packed with testosterone.  Hang on, questioning a soldier, levels are flash backs.  Am I playing CoDBlops again?  Into the action and we start with an on the rails QTE prologue.  So far, so meh.  Onto a night time level, I’m on my own trying to get back to an evacuation zone. It’s dark, gun shots and shouts break the silence, spotlights blind you as you turn a corner…this is much better.  Heart is racing, really enjoying this…oh it’s over.  OK though, as now I am climbing into a jet (must…try…hard…to avoid…Top Gun quotes).  Here we go and …. oh, I’m not flying. Just dropping bombs..when told to…hmm.  And now I’m running down a hillside towards a town in the dark (DICE are really proud of their lighting effects) playing a game of grown up ‘follow my leader’, nowhere near as much fun as when I was on my own a few levels back.

And this is typical of SP.  When the set pieces work right, it’s all very exciting but, for a game that prides itself on openess in MP, the SP is a claustophobic affair with a lot of handholding.  I know FPS games are well known for crappy SP but just imagine how much love would be given to a game that came out with a half decent SP story?

Co-op – haven’t played, can’t comment.

MP – I loved BF BC2. It’s probably the only FPS MP that I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed.  I am neither good at these games or able to spend 24 hours a day getting better at them so when I played BC2 and was able to kill the odd bad guy or hitch up with my squad in a tank to clear out a village I actually felt part of things. I felt everything was fairly balanced.  Shots hurt other players (not like CoD where, on the few occasions I’ve been able to sneak up behind an enemy,  I’ve shot them half a dozen times only for them to turn around and gun me down with one bullet).  There were no crazy killstreak awards.  You might get helicopters pinning you down but they could be blown up too.  The maps were big but felt populated.  All the things that made me prefer the title to CoDBlops.

I’ve played half a dozen games on BF3 and those feelings just aren’t there. Maps are huge and there are only 12 enemies in total.  This equals camping (those people who think ‘sod claiming a base, I’ll just sit here and get my levels up’).  It’s weird to get to the end of a game and see that most of the 24 playing have not managed to kill more than 6.

Not sure if the CoD crew are sharpening their nails on this until next Tues but squadplay seems non-existent.  Apart from using you to spawn on, I have yet to find any real team work.  Sure this is different if you have a few friends you can jump on at the same time but, due to my erratic game playing times,  I often don’t.

There have been several times I have spawned only to be shot dead in one shot in under a second.  How did they know I was there?

Servers will come into their own in time but it took me 4 days to actually get a game and things are still not right.  Not sure if it was a game error or the server putting me out of my misery but I crashed out of a game last night and had to reset the game to continue.  On the forums, many gamers are mentioning being kicked out of matches on more than a few occasions.

So to the graphics…  this engine will produce marvellous things but, on the 360 at least, it is not happy. Fair bit of break up, there seems to be two layers of water when I swim (not a game breaker but hardly an immersing feature), a few judders here and there (but that could be the server).  It does look pretty in places (so did BC2) but also very grey and similar across many of the maps I have played.  I have yet to stop in my tracks and go ‘wow, that looks fantastic’.  Putting it simply, despite the HD pack being installed on your hard drive, the console cannot cope and things can often get messy.

To conclude, I appreciate that there are a lot of moans above (and there are still many positive things that stand out on this title) but it’s difficult to avoid the negative points when the developer and publisher have been carping on about this being the dog’s spherical ones for months. Bland SP and strangely unappealing and cold MP have been my initial impressions and the 99p trade in offer for Halo Nov 18 is looking v appealing.

No next gen feelings from me.  Activision just need a calm launch and steady servers and they’ll have this round won comfortably.

Just like Klitschko.

EDIT 11/11/11 – Played some more SP and am finding that you get a great level for every shite level.  The tank level is particularly good fun with a lot of tense moments.  It feels especially good after the rubbish level before it, full of QTE that don’t match what’s going on on-screen.  Still finding AI rubbish. In one room, I had to knife a soldier in front of me who was blocking a doorway.  Instead of pressing knife button I lobbed a grenade.  It went off in the small room and…guess what?… the soldier still stood looking the other way oblivious to my presence.  What a nonsense!!!

Gears of War 3 – a drunken view

Posted: October 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Sat on a bus in Newport at midnight on my own… A rare night out its TRUE but its meant a night with no gaming…Sat here slightly drunk I’ve got to thinking about GoW3 and the campaign I’ve ALMOST completed…
Not that I roll on a level that can be described as ‘challenging’, I must say that this Gears has been the easiest of the 3. It has meant that I could apportion more of my ageing mind to the storyline.
Not wanting to give away spoilers, I’ve had a Brill time nailing Lambents and Grubs but still feel Marcus could have been more heartfelt in the intimate moments, particularly involving his dad. Perhaps a montage or ‘Just the two of us’ duet would have helped but no, it’s just a case of ‘Hi Dad’ how you’ve been? Excuse me while I kill more bad guys’.

Now that the campaign is almost over I near the big decision – multiplayer or trade? I’d like to try multiplayer but tired of being a pin cushion for bullets. At least Skyrim is only a month away…

Had my first 30 min with this little gem.

Death will not be far from me during this playthrough.  World is stark but alluring, every NPC a potential deadly threat… Really like the odd messages that pop up from other users out there.  Spotting a ghostly outline of someone who has been in the area is almost as scary as going toe-to-toe with the game baddies.

Looking forward to progressing further but currently stuck behind a door. Hmm……

One of the games top of my ‘must get round to playing that one day but don’t really want to pay for it to lie on my pile of shame’ list.

Thanks to Boomerang Rentals (top service guys) I’ve had the chance to get a go sooner than I thought.

The thing that hits you straight away is the style of the game.  It’s definitely one of those titles that, on sight, you would argue could never be from the Brown-loving Unreal Engine but it is.  Quirky Victorian London soon gives way to the technicolour Wonderland but, in all cases, a real sense of unease awaits the player as things have definitely grown up from the original source material.

A couple of hours in and wanting to further explore the beautiful surroundings is still drawing me back but the faults outlined in many a professional review are definitely there.  Your path is decidedly linear and combat is already feeling like a bash button marathon.  Having said that, some interesting additions to Alice’s possible actions are coming into play.

So far, so okay – must confess to enjoying it even if it’s not tearing me away from the current batch of AAA titles out there.

Buy, Rent, Miss?  – At the moment, a definite rent.

Accessing all areas in Bristol…

Posted: October 3, 2011 in Review
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And so it came to pass that, during one of his rare forays into the land of Facebook, the ageing gamer didst apply for tickets in the hope of attending an intimate affair in yonder Bristol.  Yay, he was successful in smiting the filthy beast of fate and the treasure was his…

Meaning that I had a day pass from the kids to go along to one of the Playstation Access events in Bristol.  I cunningly applied for the Saturday afternoon session rather than Friday night or Saturday night thereby avoiding a performance from guest artiste Mr Lethal Bizzle. (‘Call that music?  It’s just noise, etc…’)

On arriving with my little gaming friend, we were slightly alarmed to find that we were the only ones over 16 and who didn’t look like skater boys…until we found out that the warehouse right next to the Access venue was an indoor skating park.  Phew!  Walking along a little further we were comforted by the site of other men who lacked the ability for a smooth shave but who offset it by wearing a themed t-shirt containing Star Wars or some mildy amusing pun or observation.  Now we felt we belonged!

There were even a couple of girls, one who had indulged in cosplay! (Which definitely affected the impact of those wearing the t-shirts with the mildly amusing puns and observations).

Following a brief and ‘before opening time’ crowd surge (can you call a gang of 5 lads a crowd?) we were allowed in.  The nightclub venue was pumping out some choice tunes (don’t know whose choice though, call that music, it’s just noise, etc) and mild panic initially set in.  On seeing collections of settees, flat screens and ps3 controllers everyone relaxed at the site of their natural habitats.  The only thing missing were the 2 litre bottles of coke and nibbles.

I am embarrassed to say that, despite some new games on offer, my friend and I started with the demo of FIFA 12.  I mean, not only has the demo been out for weeks but we both bought the full game the day before!  However, a match needed to be played and you try getting him online, the evasive beggar…

The darkness of the club hid my fury at leaking a 90th minute goal as we traversed the dance floor to indulge in a bit of Assassin’s Creed Revelations multiplayer.  5 PS3s were linked up and competitions were being run all afternoon with t-shirts offered to anyone who could kill more people than anyone else.  Again, this has been available on the network for a while now but actually playing back to back with 4 others in the same space, hearing the ‘oohs’, the ‘aahs’ and the ‘you bugger!’ always seems much more fun to me.  I like online gaming but it always feels more sterile sat in your home alone, bring back more local multiplayer!

Fresh from his football success my friend bagged a t-shirt and on he went again, rather foolishly, to Dark Souls.

‘This is where he comes unstuck, mwuh-hah hah’ I thought childishly as he was battered by a furious skeleton with a big stick.  Smirking privileges were quickly passed to him however as, minutes later, I became big, spiky pig food.  This game is seriously hard….but I am going to get it….that pig is sausages.

A much lighter game was needed next so, once our complimenatry drink tokens were exchanged for beers, we donned our metaphorical co-op hats and dived into Ratchet and Clank All 4 one.  Ahh, that’s better, bright lights, silly dialogue, kill lots of cute robots just by mashing the square button…yawn…….

‘Excuse me lads? Have you played Uncharted 3 multiplayer yet?’ came a bright, chirpy voice from behind.   Not yet, we replied, but we’d played the beta at home so….

‘Ah, but have you played it in OUR room?’

3 minutes later we were walking into a room containing lots of plastic foliage and an over eager smoke machine.

‘Has the…cough…game….started….splutter….yet?’  I asked.

‘Yeah but we’ve been playing in some of the empty slots so just go there and swap with my colleagues’

‘Uh…cough…where…exactly?’

By channelling our senses we used our enhanced powers of hearing to make our way around the cluster of TVs and take our positions.  ‘Well, at least we’re close enough to the telly so I can see what I’m doing in the game even if I can’t see who I’m playing with’ I thought…just before the sandstorm powerplay kicked in on the deathmatch we were playing and the screen was full of virtual dust and sand…. I’m sure everyone who wanted to has played this by now but, if you haven’t, I can happily announce that it’s a fab addition to what will be a fab campaign.

Back into the main room to try out Tekken Tag Prologue, Battlefield 3 and Goldeneye 007 single players and even a quick go on Resistance 3 with the full gun PS Move attachment.  Loved the lock and load feature on the peripheral but the whole Move / Kinect experience for me is still feeling too clunky.

The biggest ‘exclusive’ of the session due to the lack of PSVita (shame!) was the appearance of the much mooted 3D headsets.  Set up to run a bit of a Spiderman film, attendees had the chance to don the headsets and feel like Geordi La Forge.  How was it?  Ok but I was far from overwhelmed.  3D works well but screen just feels like a small one that you’re closer to rather than giving the impression that you’d be playing your games on a cinema screen.  Front bit was heavy too so I imagine you’d get that annoying mark on your nose after prolonged play…

So in conclusion.  Not sure what Sony get out of this.  There can’t have been more than 40 guests there (all who were very aware of the games to start with), at least 20 ‘bright, young things’ running the session, the club can’t have come cheap and we even got a free beer, uncharted 3 t-shirt and chimera sackboy keyring!  Being one of the later Access dates, a lot of the games on offer had come out as betas, demos and even full releases by the start of October but it was, and always will be, great fun joining other gamers in a big room with lots of games to chill out to.  Despite what the Daily Mail will have you believe, gaming IS social. These events are not essential but they are a bit of fun and at no cost. Well worth going along to one and I’m sure if you go onto the Access page on facebook there are still events left to run this year.

Time was all too soon up.  We grabbed our goody bags, tore off our wristbands (causing the inevitable skin lacerations – what DO they make that adhesive out of?) and headed for the train back to Wales.  A short walk back to Temple Meads was just what was needed having been temporarily blinded by the sun after lurking around a dark nightclub for the best part of an afternoon.

‘Back? I can never go back; I have seen too much to go back to the beginning’

These words could have been uttered by Altair himself but instead came out of my mouth when I read that this month’s chosen game was the original Assassin’s Creed.  Surely, having sampled the substantial improvements of ACII and the subtle enhancements of Brotherhood, returning to the game that started it all would only bring
frustration and bad memories?

Well, yes… and no.
Returning to the Holy Lands was actually a refreshing experience.  Not sure if it was MLG’s aim to give us back-to-back retina-scorchingly bright games to chase away the soggy summer but I still cannot help being impressed by that first city flyby once the game boots up.

The graphical impact continues once the game begins (although I don’t count the grainy washed out ‘out of Animus’ sequences) with fluid character movement and a set of towns and cities that actually feel ‘alive’ with so many people that you can sort of forgive the fact that they are running the same pre-programmed routes and saying the same thing (‘I’ll have your hand for this!’).  It cannot be underestimated how impressive AC still looks and its environments still blow current day titles such as Dead Island and Deus Ex clean out of the water.

Ok, it still looks nice 4 years on but what about the story?  Could I remember how it all began having enjoyed Ezio’s more recent exploits?  For me, going back to the beginning actually clarified much of what has happened since.  Aspects of the story do have the tendency to tie themselves in knots but at least this WAS a story and one attempting to be a little bit different.

So far so good then, an intriguing story premise and fantastic graphics and sound.  So why did this game divide the opinions of so many?

Game play.  When all the trimmings are stripped away this is what brings gamers to the fight.  AC promised much but stopped considerably short of a clean kill.  Free running is fun, stealth attacks regularly satisfy BUT swordplay often results in a trial of button mashing and assassinations soon become an exercise in repetition.  Being forced to conduct simplistic and samey investigations to extract information is only slightly offset by carrying out equally simplistic and samey side missions (How on earth did the soldiers manage to control the cities when they seemed to spend most of their time beating up timid citizens?!).  Staking out and planning the main assassination once they unlock is enjoyable but once you embark on your plan it seems only a matter of time until the soldiers see you (and they nearly always see you) and all hell breaks loose.

Despite all of these failings, however, AC is still a game that can be enjoyed if for nothing else than being an opportunity to explore and interact in a world borne from our own history (rather than a faux warzone
or planet in meltdown).  Just as long as you don’t play it for too long at any one time.

Its history that’s shown us that Ubisoft listened and learnt, releasing two games since that have delivered a much deeper set of game mechanics, somehow further raising the graphical and audio bar and even added an interesting multiplayer feature.  Giving the developer time to reflect and respond has meant that we are the benefactors
of a growing series of games with powerful stories and enjoyable game play (although no more Ezio after this one, please Ubisoft!)

Looking around the game industry these days, all too often IPs have to succeed first time round or the idea (and very often the developing team) is canned. In one or two cases this year, success still doesn’t mean the
extension of a concept.

So, the sum really is greater than the parts – no Altair would have meant no Ezio.  Assassin’s Creed is a flawed game, fact. But it’s also an important game for the series (and an influence for many other games since) that no amount of criticism and complaints from the gaming press and us humble gamers is going to change.

I think the great assassin, Altair, said it best himself:

‘Be at peace now, their words can no longer do harm.’