Friday, 27 March 2015

Resident Evil Revelations 2: Review

It must be hard being somebody important in the Resident Evil universe, as once you become embroiled in bioterrorism incidents or zombie outbreaks, they seem to follow you around everywhere. A simple walk to the shops can turn into a fight for survival, or a family visit can inexplicably morph into a sudden mutation extravaganza. Or maybe this happens…

At a TerraSave conference with Moira Burton, daughter of series favourite Barry Burton, Claire Redfield is basically loving life and being appreciative of the fact she isn’t involved in another horrible freak show of bioterrorism, experimentation and all-round abject horror… Until a SWAT team kidnaps them both and dumps them into another horrible freak show of bioterrorism, experimentation and all-round abject horror. Never saw that one coming!

Waking up in a strange prison sporting some fashionable matching bracelets, Claire and Moira find the accommodation to be sub-par, the food is repulsive and the natives… Well, they’re neither friendly nor welcoming. Not ones to stay for pleasantries, Claire and Moira fight their way through the army of abominations to find out why they’re here, and how they can escape. Meanwhile, Barry “Master of Unlocking” Burton is on the hunt to save them, teaming with a small girl called Natalia that he encounters along the way. This being Resident Evil and not CBBC, Natalia is not a normal little girl, possessing some strange abilities. Between both sets of characters, you’ll work to discover the mysteries of the Overseer, the woman who orchestrated this entire hullabaloo.

Right out of the gate, this game oozes a foreboding atmosphere out of every orifice; a sense of trepidation overcoming your very being… At least to begin with anyway. Later episodes don’t quite match up to the prison of the first episode. You’ll venture through mines, towns, forests and sewers, along with some throwbacks to classic Resident Evil, and whilst these can be quite intimidating (the town was another favourite) I was left longing for the claustrophobic, darkness consumed hell-hole from Episode 1.

That’s not to say that episode 1 is the only highlight, as other aspects of the game begin to shine. Barry’s second episode sees the introduction of Glasps, invisible bags of insect legs ripped straight from the bowels of my personal nightmares, designed to make you fear what could be waiting around the corner. Ammo is typically scarce, and you can find yourself expending entire clips at the wall trying to take down a Glasp or two. Fortunately, I’m yet to be killed by one in game, but if you fire enough bullets, you’re bound to kill something.

The gameplay is simple and effective, but it allows for some deeper customisation by offering a skill tree and some upgradable weapons. By the end of the game, I had my partners Moira or Natalia act as a healer, whilst tailoring both Claire and Barry to be a tank, dealing more weapon damage. However, you could spec Moira and Natalia to be experts at finishing off enemies on the ground, or give Claire and Barry some dominating melee power coupled with lightning quick evasiveness. Both sets of partners have good gameplay chemistry and mesh well together. Moira can use her torch to stun enemies whilst Claire can finish them off, whilst Natalia has the ability to “sense” enemies through walls (similar to The Last of Us), including those darned Glasps.

Boss fights can be tough encounters, as in typical Resident Evil fashion, big monsters just refuse to die. Ammo conservation is a must going in to the fight, but there’s usually enough lying around to help you get by.  The problem is the lack of originality that’s sometimes on offer, not just with the standard “shoot the glowy bits to be a cool guy” method to boss fights that’s on offer here, but with the monster designs and gameplay tropes.

Ignoring the fact that one boss fight looks like a slightly mutated guy on steroids and how uninteresting that is, Revelations 2 basically rehashes the Dr Salvador/Chainsaw Sisters enemy type from Resident Evil 4, which was also a boss fight in Resident Evil 5… And he also made an appearance in Resident Evil 6. There comes a time when fan service transforms into laziness, and this seems to be it.

The overall story and gameplay does deteriorate by the fourth and final episode. Claire and Moira have what can only be described as a brief cameo section, whereas Barry’s section culminates in a horde section, the direct antithesis of traditional survival horror gameplay, and a disappointing final boss fight. However, the groundwork is laid for Resident Evil going forward in terms of plot, but that’d be saying too much.

Ultimately though, there is a lot to enjoy here. Tense atmosphere, engaging gameplay and a genuinely intriguing storyline combine to create an enjoyable romp through another horrible freak show of bioterrorism, experimentation and all-round abject horror. Fans of the series will appreciate how the game fits into the overall canon of the RE universe, whilst casual fans can still appreciate the game for its core components.

Overall – 4/5 Accessible, atmospheric and absorbing, marred by some unoriginality.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Jet Car Stunts Review

In the pursuit of both things to write about and ways to stop money from burning a hole in my pocket, I happened upon Jet Car Stunts on the marketplace. Expecting some kind of stellar narrative where you, the plucky protagonist, must stand up against the hordes of evil in a universe that would put Tolkien to shame, I was greeted with a game about a Jet Car… that does Stunts…  Welcome to the Ronseal of game titles. Allow me to have some fun here.

Taking more than just a leaf out of Trials’ handbook, Plane Vehicle Tricks steals an entire bush. Given various levels which increase in difficulty, you’re tasked with either navigating your way to the exit, completing a time trial of the course, or collecting stars dotted around the landscape, using the titular Jet Car to rocket boost over jumps and lament the aerial capabilities of your mode of transport.

For a paltry £4, you can forgive the “straight-line” levels of simplicity offered by Propulsion Automobile Manoeuvres, with levels consisting of basic geometry on a stock image skybox, if the game was any good… Which it isn’t.  Controlling the vehicle in the air has a somewhat Lunar Lander quality: the car is guided more by momentum than by user input. That’s great for Lunar Lander, which can be controlled on a 2D plane.  Aircraft Motorcar Aerobatics is on a 3D plane, making car control in mid-air range from atrocious to insipid, as you struggle with a camera that could induce motion sickness at a moment’s notice.

This is somewhat of a shame really, as the "Jet" and "Stunt" aspects let the whole game down. On the ground, when you're only a "Car", the game handles beautifully, drifting around corners with relative ease. You begin to resent the jumps and the awkward in-air controls, preferring the sweet embrace of Terra Firma... Or at least a solidity of a texture-less cube.

This game is designed for one purpose: waiting. “Oh, GTA is taking a while to install. Guess I’ll play The Stunting Adventures of Jet Car!” Games that you can dip in and out of whilst waiting for an ever increasing average install time are going to become more marketable as this current generation continues. But this game isn’t the start of that movement. It feels like a GripShift rip-off in the worst kind of way. For the uninitiated, GripShift was a PSP game about a Jet Car of sorts that had an inclination towards Stunts, and it was 10 times better than this game. Please, avoid Airliner Sedan Feats at all costs.

Overall: 4/10 –A great "Car" attached to some truly horrendous "Jet Stunts".

Blue Estate: Review

Based on a comic book that no one I know has heard anything about, Blue Estate has very little to do with either the colour blue, or the socio-economic struggles of the housing market. I would say it’s about mafia boss Don Luciano’s prized horse, the titular “Blue Estate”, and the Pulp Fiction-esque kerfuffle that ensues in trying to rescue it, but really, Blue Estate has very little to do with anything other than daft, over the top madness.

That’s not to say there isn’t a plot as there is, and it’s silly, but essentially, as with most on-rails shooters, the plot simply exists as a crutch to guide the player from one encounter to the next, whether that be a Korean nightclub, the warehouse of a fast food establishment or a golf course populated by Eastern European goons using grenades as balls. 

You see, Blue Estate realises that the concept of an on-rails shooter is absurd. Why would there be 400 armed goons guarding one nightclub? But, they use the medium as a platform to poke fun. Through the storytelling of lazy detective and Jonah Hill lookalike Roy Devine Jnr, we follow Tony Luciano, egotistical and psychopathic son of Don Luciano, and Clarence, ex-Navy SEAL looking for a means to provide for his family.

What follows is a sequence of events and gameplay that can only be described as “silly”. Under the watchful eye of some kind of fourth wall breaking Federal Bureau of Procrastination who keep interrupting Roy when he starts to ramble or get his facts wrong, you find yourself massacring most of the LA population because why not?! This isn’t a game designed to be taken seriously, and it has to be seen to be believed. Before long, it has become less of a game and more of a hallucinatory experience.

In between these bouts of insanity, there is a game to be played, and that game is Time Crisis for a Kinect user, but the game works perfectly fine with a controller (Note: I only used a controller, so I can’t speak for how well the game plays with Kinect). The mechanics are solid, and there’s a generous auto aim which allows for quicker kills and longer combos. In between that are “gestures”, mini quick time events that involve flicking the left stick in various directions, which could be anything from wiping mud/water/hair away from your eyes, to punting a Chihuahua that’s humping your leg…  

The ludicrousness of the story and the gameplay certainly go hand in hand, and whilst the initial run-through of the game was fun, you’re struggling for anything more beyond that. If it wasn’t for the humour and general atmosphere of this game, you’d have seen all the tricks this game has within the first five minutes. Sure, you might get a new weapon each level, but the gameplay remains the same. The trouble with a console version of an on-rails shooter is that the novelty wears off when you don’t have a plastic replica gun to aim with. 

There are no new enemy types beyond the first two levels, apart from the addition of bullet-proof armour, and even though there are three boss fights, they hardly plumb the depths of innovation and originality. There will be no Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to Fighting Bosses in Blue Estate’s future, as they are easily the weakest part of the entire game.

There is enough content here to sustain those who enjoy the game, with an unlockable difficulty level, Arcade and co-op mode available, but they just serve to highlight how bare bones the game is (Arcade mode is devoid of the story mode’s comedy, which really doesn’t help), and this leaves me with the job of rating this game. 

Ultimately, enjoyment will come from your taste in humour, so here’s the system: If you enjoy bizarre, fourth wall breaking humour, or you like games like Time Crisis, or House of the Dead, then feel free to add two points to the rating, as you’ll probably enjoy this game. For everyone else, keep the current rating, and keep your money too. This won’t be for you.

Overall: 4/10 – A scatter-brained journey held together by gameplay that quickly loses appeal.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

EA Access - A One-Off or a Glimpse into the Future?

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Come one, come all and see the rare and spectacular Eighth Wonder of the World: EA Not Being Terrible! See the so-called “Worst Company Ever” really turn things around for themselves with EA Access!

Seriously though, EA Access is a good deal. A £20 a year subscription to play some top quality titles? How could you say no? Between Peggle 2, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, EA UFC and Battlefield 4, along with a 10% discount on all EA related purchases (including micro-transactions, good news for all you Ultimate Team players), you’ve got some insane value for money here, and the deal keeps getting better: NBA Live 15 and Madden 15 have just been added to The Vault, a collection of games you can play just for the price of subscription.

Granted, this kind of deal might be tailored more towards a sports fan, given EA’s vice-like grip on most things that involve the words “sport” or “competition” or “athlete”, but you also have to take into consideration the amount of franchises that EA have their fingers in. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Star Wars: Battlefront, SSX, Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge… Hell, even a longshot like Burnout; my point is that EA Access can only get better with time.

But I’m not writing this article as a final boarding call for the Hype Train to Grand EA Station. No, I wanted to open up some kind of discussion about the business model EA is offering. Could the EA Access framework be adopted by other companies in the future? And who would those companies be?

It’s worth mentioning now that this strategy in particular simply cannot be adopted by everyone. The reason why it works for EA is because they have the correct balance between established games and upcoming IPs, coupled with the perfect price tag. You could argue that no one would be able to offer a competitive subscription model similar to EA Access, with the exception of Ubisoft, as they also have a vast collection of franchises that could sustain such a system.

We’re talking about Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Trials, Rayman, Just Dance, Rainbow Six and new IP The Division, and that’s just what’s been established for the current gen consoles. Throw in some new games from Driver, Splinter Cell and Watch Dogs (assuming they haven’t abandoned it), and ladies and gentlemen, we have a contender for a new subscription service, and a new purpose for uPLay!

But maybe this doesn’t have to be limited to companies. Maybe a game franchise could get in on the act. One that releases yearly and has more DLC than you thought possible… Say hi to Call of Duty!
Think about it: you offer a yearly subscription at around the £30 mark, which would include access to every Call of Duty game, including the latest release at the time, early access to the DLC which you can buy at a 33% discount, some bonus weapons, skins, maybe even an exclusive map, and I believe Activision would enter Scrooge McDuck levels of obscene wealth. It’s less “cash cow”, more a herd of prime beef.

The loyal fan base would cherish a service like this, and it also gives Activision a means of access to their key demographic. I’m not even a big Call of Duty fan, but even I’d find this a tantalising prospect.

But perhaps the subscription ideas shouldn’t just come from EA Access. How about a service like LootCrate? Yeah, I’m getting a little bit far-fetched with this one, but give me a chance to explain myself.

LootCrate is basically exactly what it says on the tin: a crate filled with loot, specifically “geeky” loot. The catch is that each month is based on a particular theme: Fear, Heroes, and Retro are all previous examples. How does this apply to videogame based subscriptions, you might ask? “I’m bloody getting to it!” I would reply. Taking the idea of a different theme each month, Xbox Live and PlayStation+ could offer subscriptions based solely on a type of genre.

“Hey, do you like to play fighting games?! For £10 a year, you can receive a trial of a different fighting game every month, and if you like the game, you can buy it for a cool discount. But that’s not all! We offer services for lots of different genres, including First Person Shooters, Driving Games, Sandbox Adventures, and even our Indie Games! Don’t miss out!” Or at least, that’s roughly how the pitch might go down.

However, I suppose the big question isn't what companies could adopt this, or what structure would it adhere to, but should there be an increase in services of this type? What kind of precedent would that set?

Gamers love getting a good deal, and models like EA Access offer such a deal, and with the introduction of additional subscriptions, gamers would be allowed to indulge in their preferred franchises, but surely the profitability of gaming would suffer as a result? EA Access works for both gamers and EA as only older or cheaper games are featured in the Vault.

Imagine getting new, triple-A releases for the price of subscription? Sounds good, right, but think long term here. EA would receive less money, even though the same, if not, more people would be playing the game, meaning that they have less money to produce more of what you love. It’s a downward spiral, of which EA Access teeters on the precipice. Just look at Games with Gold. It’s either old games, or low budget indie titles, where the amount of money to be made is considerably decreased.

So what’s the answer here? EA Access is a great concept, maybe even an experiment in distributing games to new audiences, and I think they’ve found the magic formula of discounting new games and making the older games free, but that’s where it should stay
. The moment a new service comes along and undercuts EA by offering the latest games for the price of subscription, the plug must be pulled.

I’m interested to hear what you think. Yes, you, the people. The people who have either stumbled randomly onto my humble blogging site and are now desperately clawing for the exit button, or the friends that I have incessantly pestered to “read my blog”. Are subscription models viable? What about my suggestions? Do you have any of your own? Sound off below, and I’ll see you next time.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Dragonball Xenoverse Review

Dragonball has finally solved the age old question of how you add original characters and plot and weave them into the path of a well-trodden storyline. The answer: time-changing shenanigans! Unoriginal? Maybe, but it breathes new life into the series, and poses a number of fascinating “What If?” questions. What If you swapped bodies with Captain Ginyu and not Goku? What if Hercule wasn’t totally useless…?

Summoned by Shenron and Trunks to Toki Toki City, you play a silent warrior from one of five races: Human, Saiyan, Namekian, or from the unnamed species that Frieza and Buu belong to (Frieza Race and Buu Race). Me, I decided to create some kind of “DudeBro” Saiyan, complete with sunglasses and goatee, but there are a range of options at your disposal, including male and female. Ever wanted to know what a female Buu looks like? Here’s your chance.

Tasked with stopping the timeline from being altered by fresh new villains, you jump to different points in the popular anime/manga’s timeline (even including the new Battle of Gods film), and make sure things happen the way that they’re supposed to… By punching, kicking and Kamehameha’ing your way through everyone who opposes you.

As I mentioned before, the plot gives the series of games a renewed lease on life, instead of just following the same story, retold 20 times over in previous games. The new villains help to make things seem fresh, and as you play through the game, they begin to affect the storyline in comical and interesting ways, two of which I have already alluded to. On top of that, there’s a sense of satisfaction to be had from watching your abomination absolutely destroy the most popular and powerful characters.

However, despite these changes, the gameplay remains mostly the same, which is to say simple and accessible. You don’t have to learn any complex button inputs here, but there is some scope for combos if you choose to seek it, especially when fighting as part of a team. Mostly though, you’ll be marvelling at how many colours of the spectrum can appear on screen at any one time.

Outside of missions, you’ll be wandering Toki Toki City, an online hub world similar to The Tower in Destiny, where you can buy gear, interact with other players and accept Parallel Quests. These side missions are where the game really experiments with the lore. You could go from helping Guldo complete a Ginyu Force Entrance Exam, to joining the Androids in exterminating the Z Warriors. Speaking of which, why is there no Android Race? Maybe in the DLC…

The hub world is a fantastic addition, when the servers actually work, as the sheer amount of players who populate the city help to create a genuine sense of community, even if most of that community is standing around trying to complete a fusion pose. Also within Toki Toki City are Masters, series mainstays who will train you and give you their moves, meaning you could also wield skills like Final Flash and Big Bang Kamehameha, among others.

There’s a lot to this game, possibly more than most other DB games in recent memory. The amount of gear, characters, and missions on offer here is incredible, but it helps to highlight a potential downfall: the entire game is governed by RNG (random number generator). Loot rewards from missions, including Dragonballs? RNG. Master’s appearing in Toki Toki City? RNG. The appearance of bonus stages? RNG, even if you fulfilled the required objectives.

Sure, it helps to create replayability, and when the gameplay is this fun and you’ve got a friend to join you, it becomes less of a problem, but when you’ve Z-Ranked a tough mission and the loot you need still doesn’t appear, it’s hard not to feel cheated, which could put some people off. What’s worse is that some Masters (I’m looking at you Vegeta) require you to obtain mission specific loot in order to continue with their training. Good advice? Loot hunt in groups, and share the rewards.

All in all, there’s a lot to like about Xenoverse. The adventures of you, Saviour of Time and Space, is both equal parts fan-service and accessible to the casual gamer, and the gameplay can attract anyone to pick up and play. The grind for specific loot might get too much for those who aren’t dedicated fans, but that shouldn’t put people off giving this a try.

+ Accessible for everyone
+ Fun
+ Lots of Content

- Could be considered a grind
- Gameplay can become repetitive after a while

Overall: 8/10 – More than just for fans of the series.