Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Nah-nah-naah-nah-BAAAAATTTTMAAAAAANN!

Batman - Arkham City

Over two years has passed since the last Batman game, Batman - Arkham Asylum. A title which took gamers by surprise. Probably ending up as one the best action/adventure games this generation.


A tendency in the gaming industry is that licensed games from super heroes, movies or cartoons end up being very bad, Arkham Asylum changed that impression and actually delivered a game that was not only good, but truly incredible. There are a lot of expectations for the developer Rocksteady Studios then. Can City deliver what Asylum did so brilliantly?


The story revolves around Batman’s imprisonment in Arkham City (a dilapidated and fenced in part of Gotham City, which now serves as a prison for criminals). Or more correct Bruce Wayne’s imprisonment. His dual identity is then revealed by Doctor Strange, one of the main protagonists and enemies of Batman in Arkham City. After releasing the new evil plot of the Joker and Strange, Batman must once again step up and stop them.


From the get-go you realise that the size of Arkham City far surpasses the original, apparently five times the size. So it becomes much more of a sandbox game than Asylum. What I really liked about the first game was the fact that you could explore areas at your own will from the main island, usually all these side-missions were contained in various buildings. Arkham City is no different, only much, much larger.

Some of the locations are quite creepy.

Standing on a ledge looking out over Arkham City is always breathtaking.

All your abilities from the last game are also kept and new ones are obtained by experience points and must be purchased. Experience points are earned from solving riddles, completing missions and defeating enemies. There’s also a huge set of tasks to complete to earn even more points, like jumping off a building a set amount of times, gliding for so long etc.


Rocksteady have taken care that you move very fast and use a lot of gliding to traverse the far larger outdoor area. There are also new gadgets that can be purchased to aid this even further. They have even woven in a side-story where you can play as Catwoman. These missions actually are a great diversion from Batman’s story and feel different and really fun to play. In fact one of Catwoman’s later missions, based heavily around stealth, end up as being one of my favourite ones throughout the game!

The Catwoman stages are really fun and add to the variation.

You can now climb up onto your ziplines.

The sheer variation in the gameplay and missions is superb throughout Arkham City. The characters you meet, both new and old foes and friends, are really well voice-acted and put a lot of diversity to the story. The main storyline through the game is very diverse and you’ll never tire, it can well be played without going off on side-missions and holds a perfect balance between learning new tricks and building up your experience in controlling Batman. Sometimes you are simply baffled by new areas that are revealed, or the fact that not one single thing you do in the singleplayer feels like a repeat of anything before it.


Technically Arkham City looks as beautiful as the original. All powered by the Unreal engine for delivering large, but detailed environments. The snowstorm outside adds a great effect and atmosphere. The old looking buildings look fantastic and have great architecture to them. The colour palette is a little on the grey and brown side though and it may be that I’ve seen a little too many of the PC screenshots beforehand, making me notice that the console version is not as pretty looking.


There are some downsides to the game. The sheer size of the game directly affects the quality of small details and atmosphere in my opinion. There simply are a little too many buildings, some of which you simply go into once and never return. Too many of them feel very bland and are easily forgotten. In Arkham Asylum I felt you really got familiar with the whole island and the buildings within it. Each building felt distinctly different and very familiar once you entered it. This chase after making the game “bigger and better” is also reflected in adding over 400 Riddler quests. A number which I simply saw and gave up hope on completing or seeing the entertainment value of in the long run.


The amount of side-missions which could have expanded the main storyline, both with more diverse gameplay and really cool characters complete with some great cut-scenes, is also a design choice which I question. It does however motivate for playing the game further after the credits and continue solving cases and riddles.

He won't know what hit him!

It's hot in here!

Gameplay wise, Arkham City does things very right, but the boss battles don’t feel really tough enough and there are a ridiculous amount of enemies onscreen this time. More often than it should it makes a lot of the fighting simply tedious button-bashing. The ending of the game is also a huge let-down and actually worse than Arkham Asylums disappointing ending. After meeting so many characters it could have easily added a couple of more hours of gameplay and ended the game with a far more epic end-battle.

Make no mistake from my complaints; this is a really good game. The story, the voice-acting, the gameplay and the graphics. Everything is top-notch quality. Sadly it doesn't hit those high-notes like Arkham Asylum did, remember the awesome Scarecrow scenes for example(?!), and goes too far in expanding its size in both gameplay area, riddles and enemy amounts. This size of course can be interpreted in both a negative and positive sense of course. For me, City doesn't quite do what Asylum did.


Rating

★★★★

Friday, 27 January 2012

Vanquishing dead left 4 limbo!

Some reviews I've collected up in one post here. A mixed bag of titles really, thought they deserved a mention. Have recently pre-ordered the new SSX and Mass Effect 3, March month can’t arrive soon enough! I am currently playing through Dead Space 2 with Fear 3 planned just after. Will be back with more details on these at a later date!

Left 4 Dead 2

Although games with zombies have been around for a while, made most famous through Resident Evil back in 1996, there has always been a kind of hope that games with hoards of zombies would appear. Probably with the fairly limited hardware last generation, it has been made much easier to create this gen. Now there seems like there are a bit too many games resorting to a zombie mode. However the original Left 4 Dead was fairly early in this trend. On paper it was like a dream come true: Up to four player co-op zombie survival.


In truth though it ran on the old and rather aged Half-Life 2 engine, featured far too fast zombies, had no story whatsoever and became seriously repetitive. It was very fun at desperate times, but it had a few annoying gameplay issues and simply resorted in throwing you into complete chaos to challenge the player.

Has anything changed from this in L4D2? Well basically no. The graphics look really aged and the game looks bad. The splitscreen feature has a terrible framerate and dips constantly. The only new gameplay elements added are melee weapons. The game is also far too dark at times, has a confusing and rather lousy level design and more than often you end up wandering around wondering what to do.

Zombies like to go for a swim too!
There's plenty of action and zombie-slaying to go around in L4D2.
The game needs to be much longer, it feels like an add-on to the laughable short original game. It should have cutscenes and more story elements and the way it’s set up now should not be purchased on the intention of playing it offline alone with AI teammates. You buy this game for multiplayer co-op only.

Rating

★★ 

Limbo

There isn’t really any question as to why Limbo received a lot of praise and awards for being the best arcade game the year it was released. It fell under my radar and I only recently purchased it. Limbo has an undeniable unique art style. It has no HUD, it is in black and white and simply only takes use of a few buttons. You traverse the 2D levels with no explanation at all and must solve how to progress further and avoid being killed.


Limbo is presented in a very dark and dismal world; it feels almost like a post-apocalypse setting, where everyone has disappeared when the game begins. You wake up in a woodland area and quickly realise when you play that there are a lot of dangers in the world. Often you need to simply explore and then die to know what is dangerous, but never feels tedious in any way. The creepy darkness, sounds and disturbingly violent deaths for the main character, a young boy, all add to a fantastic atmosphere. You will be shocked and scared many times during its journey. 

It may look very simple and dismal, but Limbo is a fantastic looking game.
Traversing the landscape may look simple, but the game is full of puzzles.
The simple gameplay, dark atmosphere combined with very difficult and brain taxing puzzles make Limbo one of the best downloadable “mini-games” this generation. The artistic side to game is fantastic. It’s a tad short, but the experience is well worth the purchase.

Rating

★★★★★☆

Vanquish

What happens when the original Resident Evil creator (ed. Shinji Mikami) takes on the western fast-paced third person action shooter (with covering and slow motion of course!), adds smooth controls, robots and even faster gameplay than your average shooter? Well, you end up in Vanquish territory. I’ve complained before about the stiff gameplay and the feeling that they are lagging behind technically in Japanese developed games. Vanquish is one of these games that want to change that. They succeed fairly well too.


Vanquish has a rather easy and well-informed tutorial to get you into the gameplay. It really should have been obligatory to go through it. Vanquish relies on not only shooting over-the-shoulder style action, but also on moving around the battlefield very fast. In Vanquish you are equipped with rocket boots, which let you slide fast around from cover to cover. The more you overheat them, the more your suit energy is drained. These boots are in a sense what makes Vanquish stand out, it’s originality key if you like.

The shooting mechanics work well, there’s a fairly standard set op weapons, ranging from an assault rifle, sub-machinegun to a sniper. The feeling of gunning down the robot enemies feels like it should and although robots seems a little lame as enemies they actually suit the art style and environments in the game perfectly. They also die in a rather exciting fashion too, so you never feel the need for human or monster type enemies. At the beginning the gameplay may seem a tad too fast and confusing, but once the controls stick to your memory and you get fairly familiar with the game’s gameplay mechanics, Vanquish really starts to feel good. In a sense the gameplay is what Vanquish really does well.

Covering is essential to surviving heavy gunfights, much like Gears of War.
Lots of enemies and really fast pace, luckily it's all very controllable!
Sadly the very shallow and stereotypical characters, the over-the-top voice acting and completely pointless story really pull the game down from being so much better. You simply don’t care about anybody in the game and what is happening. The setting of the game feels like an anime, and in fact it actually may have suited the game to have a sort of anime style to the characters and making the plot darker and with more substance.  There should also have been far more variation in the environments, especially in the colour spectre.

Vanquish is for the gameplay then, it is fast paced and feels satisfying when you get to grips with the somewhat tricky control scheme. The difficulty setting is very unbalanced though, it is too hard in normal mode, the checkpoints are relentless, and too short in easy mode. I hope they make another Vanquish game which really focuses on making a good plot and a deeper level to the franchise.


Rating

★★★

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A revelation of a creed

Happy new year! I'm a little behind on reviewing games I've played in 2011, but I'll get there slowly!

Assassins Creed Revelations

It really isn’t possible to not mention the Assassin's Creed series when talking about this generation in gaming. From the beginning it has shown us what the new generation of consoles and hardware could do. The sheer technical prowess of the Assassins Creed games with its huge cities, incredible detail down to a small scale and the vast size of its environments all amaze the gamer in us. Even now with the release of Assassin's Creed Revelations it will still make mouths open in awe. The rich, colourful and buzzling city of Constantinople (or the more familiar name Istanbul) will have you exploring with eagerness once again like you always have done through the series.


It’s a game of familiarity, perhaps too familiar for some. In a sense it’s a game for the fans, yet what else can you expect from a game that’s really the third part of its second game in the series following the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze. It hardly takes any consideration if you are new to the series and explains the story following up to Revelations very briefly. As such it maybe is a game best avoided for beginners to the series; a far cleverer place to begin is with the fantastic, and still unrivalled, in the series: Assassin's Creed 2.

In all it's beautiful Renaissance era glory during
the rise of the Ottoman Empire; behold Constantinople!


Ezio meeting Yusuf Tazim, the leader of the assassin's order in the city.
The last game, AC Brotherhood, may have come across as being more like an add-on to AC2, but after a while really grew into a fantastic and very innovative title. It took the series in new directions and added many varied new gameplay elements into the fantastic formula and standard set by AC2. Revelations follows closely to Brotherhood and keeps the new and very welcome ideas, but perhaps adds too few new and unique elements on its own. It does, however, add a deeper element to taking over the city, allowing you to choose special leaders out of your assassin trainees. It even adds a rather entertaining tower defence sort of element into keeping control over sectors of the city. The clever feature from AC2 and Brotherhood of entering famous buildings has been shifted over to some rather exciting and dangerous exploration of more natural environments like crypts and caves beneath Constantinople. It actually reminds a lot about a Tomb Raider game in these sections, which is very welcome and feel great.

They have also added a grappling hook, making climbing easier and introduces some fun gliding on ziplines to get around fast and a rather advanced and detailed bomb making facility for taking out and surprising guards. I found the hook being very useful with the ziplines, but making the climbing a tad too easy. The bomb making, though, I only used a few times and I felt it rather was a little too detailed compared to the fact you hardly needed to use them.

Making your own type of bomb and trying it out on the guards is fun.


Gliding on ziplines and attacking from them
gives a great sense of speed to the gameplay.

The familiarity and small changes is a two edged sword, you can interpret it as a negative and accuse it of being an unoriginal game. You can also however look at the positive side of not changing game elements that are fantastic and work fine, simply giving you more of the fun. Fans (such as myself) will most likely interpret it as the latter and really enjoy the game. One part of the game, though, really can’t be told without giving the game enormous credit it deserves for; the story and the way it’s presented is excellent. In fact it really is one of the best parts of the story in the series so far. It gives a huge depth to the character Ezio; it feels like we have known him for a lifetime. He is old and has changed drastically from his loud-mouthed and cocky personality in his youth and grown into a wise and thoughtful person with much consideration for the people close to him.

The flaskback sequences to Altaïr from AC1 is a very
welcome and nice touch to learning more of his story.


Fighting with swords always ends up looking brutal!

The story also gives depth to how small each of the individual assassins are in the huge picture leading up to the future. The incredible, and in fact rather sad, realisation that each person working for the assassin's only do there small part and cannot fully understand the whole picture and will die without knowing, building only what they have learnt for generations much further on in history. The way the series cleverly weaves this conspiracy story in-between real history and famous characters in history (the in-game database in the game is a little history book of its own) is something I really enjoy and respect the developers for.

The story is summed up perfectly with Ezio changing his intrigued mind into expressing that he doesn't actually need to know the full truth because he has learnt so much in his lifetime and is getting exhausted and old now. This, put together with a similar flashback to AC1 main character Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad dyeing of old age, gives the story a great sense of scale and time. It feels like the whole universe of the games is well thought out and we are ready for moving on in history with an Assassin's Creed 3.

A game for the fans then and a fantastic journey once again into Ezio’s rich life.

Rating

★★★★

PS: The game also features a multiplayer mode, I have only tried this a couple of times and feel I can't give a very good opinion of it. It features a rather detailed and interactive tutorial and seems like a solid game to play for those wanting the feeling of trying to hide from and assassinate real players and not just AI characters.