Tuesday, 21 July 2015

In space, no one can hear you playing videogames.

Alien Isolation

Platform tested: Xbox One

I don't think I've been so scared playing a video game before. My playthrough of Alien: Isolation has literally killed me! My nerves at least. I'd have to go back in time to Silent Hill on the PS1 to relive these kind of tense and scared moments, and even that classic comes short to the way Alien: Isolation grips your inner fear and keeps holding on to it. Never have I felt so lonely, scared and with a pure sense of fear playing a game before. Being a huge fan of the movie, this is like a playable version of Ridley Scott's classic sci-fi horror. A movie-based game that actually works and lets you live the fear the characters in the horror flick must have gone through.

Alien: Isolation takes part in the timeline after the first movie and shows Ripley's daughter looking for the flight recorder of her mother's Nostromo spaceship. Right from the get-go the heavy influence of the movie is very apparent. Everything is designed like the late 70's movie. All the rooms, walls and objects around you look like the film set. There's even a sort of TV filter going on with the picture that makes it visually look like a movie from this era. The developers have really outdone themselves in recreating the feeling of being there.

Stranded on a huge space station, you must complete various tasks to escape. All while an Alien is roaming the corridors. Unlike other franchised Alien games you have no weapons against the space creature. This gives a far more direct feeling of hopelessness against defeating the alien. In fact, this sense of sheer overpower the alien has, is what makes the game really clever and stand out from the genre on it's own. You crawl through dark airducts, traverse corridors with flashing lights, witness exploding parts of the space station, and come so close to the alien at times you can hear it breath. It's a unique, and in regards of pure fear, unrivalled feeling in the gaming genre. I would say it surpasses even the movies, because you actually feel like you are there.

I played the game in a dark room, with headphones, and I actually loved the Kinect feature as it gave you a slight VR feeling: I can hold a button, then lean sideways or upwards to actually peek around corners or boxes I hid behind. Doing this really immerses you into the game world and it's one of those games you can completely spoil the whole point of it if you are playing it in a well-lit room, with low sound and people buzzing by. It needs to be played in the right way to grasp the whole horror aspect, otherwise you are actually spoiling the game. Later a friend join me to play the game, here the Kinect feature was difficult to use as we were passing the controller back and forth, but it was still as scary a game as ever without it!

There are some issues I have with this title. I found the way the Alien found me to be a bit on the ridiculous side at times, clearly the AI knows where you are. It makes hiding a trial and error at times. I found myself hidden in a locker, thinking it was a great way to hide, but the Alien seemed to find me there . Later, while hiding underneath a table, a place I would be clearly visible, was completely safe. It looks kind of stupid sitting under a table with a huge, obvious space under it, and the alien just strolling past looking more like a idiot than a frightening bloodthirsty creature. Luckily this happened seldom and I get that the developers need to keep the alien near you at all times to keep the tension high.

While I'm probably quite bad at this game, I never really used much of the items I could craft in the game. I would have liked them to be more efficient and easier to use without being detected. The user interface is clumsy, it may be deliberate, but stuff like this always annoys me in the long run of a game. Technically the graphics sadly suffers from a lot of framedrops when the screen gets crowded with effects. It's not a fast paced game so it doesn't matter much, but it's very obvious when you need to move fast or aim a gun. The 1080p resolution seems to be a struggle to maintain even 30 fps.

The length of the game is also questionable, it perhaps surpasses it's welcome at times. I would prefer a scary as hell game like this to last a bit shorter to keep the tension high. I must add though, that I appreciate the more calmer moments, it made me relax and lower my shoulders. Some of these moments dragged on a bit though. Especially a fairly large part of the game where the alien was not present, felt a little tedious. Luckily they added a few twists and new dangers so it wasn't a bad part, it just felt a little stale. 

Apart from the smaller issues I've mentioned; I really loved this game. It may not be for everyone, and just like the first movie, it'd slow-paced and clearly not for the inpatient. At times I was so scared I simply had to pause the game and leave the dark gaming room I played it in, to catch some fresh air. There's just something about being constantly hunted that gets under your skin! A feeling you need to let the game sink into you. If you don't let the game do this, simply playing the game in broad daylight and want action, well then this game isn't for you at all and you will spoil it's experience.

So Alien Isolation is about making an effort in playing the game the right way and doing so it will reward you with one of the creepiest and scariest gameplay experiences ever. It's that feeling of being on the alert and being hunted, watched and kept at your toes. You won't find many similar, intense and unique games. You can wait a long time to find a game world so beautifully and detailed crafted to replicate a classic movie again. While it isn't imperfect, there really isn't a game like it. Warmly recommended for horror and Alien fans alike!



    + Plus points

    • A unique experience that focuses on being the hunted and surviving a nightmare.
    • So scary it's hard to play it without missing heartbeats.
    • The design, atmosphere and graphics are top notch and replicates the movie in great detail.

    - Minus points

    • Framedrops happen quite a bit, and sluggish controls.
    • Can be frustrating with a lot of retries to get past certain areas.
    • Outstays it's lifespan somewhat in parts of the game.

    Tuesday, 14 July 2015

    Double speed velocity through blind forests.

    Two more game reviews of "smaller" digital only games. Both featuring so precise and perfect controls, with great gameplay prioritized far above anything else. You really should play them and love them like I have.

    Ori and the Blind Forest

    Platform tested: Xbox One

    I have not felt this way about a 2D platformer in a while. The charming art direction and beautiful visuals combined with amazingly sharp controls bring me back to remembering why I love the 2D platforming genre. Sure the fantastic Rayman and New Super MArio Bros. games of recent years have also brought back this feeling, but Ori really has reunited me back to those glory days from the early nineties. Back when 8 and 16 bits were relevant.

    Ori combines quite a lot of previously used game ideas to accomplish something unique of it's own. It lends a lot to the way the Metroid games are built up; at first you have no abilities. As you progress you find new abilities, which again opens up new areas that previously were not reachable on the large open map. Revisiting locked areas lets you progress further into them and really encourages exploration. This one, huge, open world makes you familiar with the game, rather than speeding you through new levels from A to B all the time. Metroidvania indeed.

    In addition to the abilities the game adds a leveling system, which further lets you unlock skills that  upgrade your abilities to become even more powerful. I like this twist or addition, if you will, to the genre. Instead of just relying on finding upgrades you also have the option to micromanage them by upgrading your favourites. Be it your attack, exloration or traversal abilitites. If you are very keen you can of course go for leveling up everything!

    Ori is a precise platformer to play, it controls with fast and tight controls and gradually requires more and more skill from the player. In fact some of the later environments had me thinking I was playing Super Meat Boy, with it's almost impossible levels to traverse, but after a few tries you realize you actually can beat them. A feeling that gives great satisfaction and further drives the point of how incredible this game is to play.

    Visually I found Ori stunning. It looks like playing a beautiful and detailed drawn cartoon or anime, only with an art direction that lends more to mystical paintings of distant fantasy worlds. The colours are vibrant, but natural, the depiction of a living forest is perfect. I love the variation in landscapes spanning mountains, lava, jungle and snowy settings. Each type of area offering new types of challenges and distinct ambient music that really builds the atmosphere up further.

    If there's something to complain about, I'd have to say the story is a bit bland and diffuse. It's presented nicely, but it's nothing that will impress. It works fine, I'm definitely not expecting anything mind blowing for a story in a platformer, but It could have been a bit deeper. I would also recommend exploring the map completely and try to level Ori all the way up, as it will make the lifespan longer. Not doing so will probably end the game a little quicker than desired. My first playthrough took about 10 hours.

    One of the most memorable and enjoyable platforming experiences I have had in years. At times it brings my enjoyment back to the days of Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. from my youth. The atmosphere and beautiful art direction really helps build a fantasy world that I'll remember clearly when looking back in years from now. One of the best games in it's genre that you can buy at the moment!



      + Plus points

      • Beautifully visuals with a hand painted fantasy art direction.
      • Sharp, fast and amazing controls.
      • Great Metroidvania style open world.

      - Minus points

      • The story is bland.
      • Skipping exploration and rushing will end the game quickly.
      • A coop option would have been nice!

      Velocity 2X

      Platform tested: PlayStation 4 and PS Vita

      Two games for the price of one, but is combining two genres from the 2D age a good idea?

      Velocity quickly shifts the player from steering a spacehip in typical vertical scrolling 2D shooter to on-foot segments that remind me of platformers and scrolling shooters from way back in the nineties. This shift in gameplay, even multiple times during a level, not only feels great, but really adds a variation that keeps the player entertained. Both game types are fast and control really precisely and as such don't feel like a change of pace. Each part suits the other and it never feels annoying to switch to the different playstyle.

      I really like how the game introduces you to the spacehip steering first, and as I've gathered, the first Velocity game only featured this. Here you also learn about the quick teleporting ability, which you need to quickly jump away from obstacles and objects blocking your way. You may also speed up your ship as fast as you like, but doing so makes traversing the levels really hard. Completion of a levels award you with XP for points earned, survivor pods rescued and time spent. XP in turn unlocks new levels. Accomplishing all three tasks in one speedrun is really hard!

      The game progresses to teach you about the on-foot levels. Here you steer a blonde woman who has fast and amazing jumping skills. She can also teleport herself through walls that block the way. The telporting and running/speeding button kind of fuses the two gamestyles together in some similar traversal abilities, yet are used fairly differently in each gameplay type.

      Her shooting feels like a typical shooter from the old 2D days, with one stick for aiming in all directions and one for walking. The difference from the old retrogames is that you can do both at the same time, we are no longer hampered by one directional pad!

      After a few levels the game combines these two gameplay types in an incredible fashion, to progress with your ship you'll for instance need to open force fields blocking the way. To do this simply speed your spaceship into a docking station and open the force fields by shooting generators on foot! I can't stress how fun it is to be playing two types of games like this!

      While the story lost my interest very quickly, the visuals and art style to V2X is really clean and pleasing to the eye. It's simple geometry and diverse colours making for a distinct looking game. For such a fast paced game, you really need to have a good view of what's going on and V2X's graphics do just that. Accompanying the visuals is a great electronic music soundtrack that keeps the pace flowing with it's high tempo.

      While V2X may not reinvent the wheel or anything, it  feels fresh thanks to it's combination of two distinct genres from days gone past of the 2D age. It does so in a way that's entertaining, extremely well controlled and presented nicely visually. I warmly recommend this old-school style shooter game, especially for people that are fans of the old genres!



        + Plus points

        • Two amazing game genres combined into one.
        • Tight and precise controls.
        • Music, artstyle and fast paced play blend into a fantastic gameplay feeling.

        - Minus points

        • Completely forgettable story.
        • Fairly repetitive gameplay, though levels vary steadily with new ideas throughout.
        • Could have done with some more location variety.

        Friday, 3 July 2015

        The master collection of haloed chief

        Halo: The Master Chief Collection

        Platform tested: Xbox One

        It should have been a fairly no-brainer to get the Halo: The Master Chief Collection right, I mean Naughty Dog did it with it's The Last Of Us Remastered. However 343 Industries kind of messed up the launch of HaloMCC badly. Firstly, it launches with a 20GB patch. Apparently all the multiplayer stuff isn't on the disc after all and must be downloaded as a patch. Thanks for that tiny, huge-ass, patch! Then the multiplayer turns out to not simply work. On top of this the achievements for the singleplayer games unlock at their own will and remain locked for things the player actually has achieved.

        The messy situation continued for fair length after release too, with newer patches not fixing the multiplayer for a lot of players. A huge mistake, as the multiplayer is loved by a lot of people, and as such has given HaloMCC a fairly bad reputation. Luckily 343 and Microsoft put a lot of effort into fixing the bugs, something they really had to considering the popular demand of the strong Halo multiplayer community. To be fair 343 had a difficult task of getting four different games running on new hardware.

        For me the multiplayer didn't matter as much and so the bugs didn't affect me, apart for the glitchy achievements, as I'd set my sights on replaying all the singleplayer parts of Halo. These kind of bugs annoy me, luckily all of the achievements were unlocked after a later patch and solvd my problems nicely.

        Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

        Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

        The patching and bug controversy aside though, is HaloMCC any good? Thankfully it's more than good. Great actually. You get Halo: Combat Evolved & Halo 2 with remastered anniversary graphics (which you can swap on the fly to the orginal grpahics by a press of a button), Halo 3 and Halo 4 all running at 60fps in 1080p (H2 apparently runs at a slightly lower resolution for some odd reason). It's clear to see that these games, with their fast paced, crowded battlefields really needed to run at 60fps all along. The collection evolves around Halo games that feature Master Chief, the main protagonist in the series, so Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach are not included on the disc. It's all about the main  Halo series in this package.

        The fantastic graphical resolution and framerate boost make all the games look amazing, and especially Halo 4 looks like it could have been from this generation of consoles! It's a bliss playing them upgraded, and even though I have played them all before, I loved every minute of it. Halo 2 was the one that stuck out the most, as I have not played it since it originally released on the first Xbox back in 2004. They have done a considerable job in remastering it. Halo 1, if you recall, already was remastered on the Xbox 360 (but running at a sub 720p at 30fps) and looks sharp and pretty.

        Halo 2 Anniversary

        Halo 2 Anniversary

        All the Halo games are fairly different experiences, yeah I know they are all fire-from-the-hip old school type of shooters, but they are fairly different in their approach within the genre:

        • Halo: Combat Evolved  is for instance a more slow moving game, with a great sense of feeling alone and rather small in it's dramatic and large landscapes. It has a more dark style to it as you unravel something shocking as you progress into the game. You could accuse the first Halo of dragging out it's lifespan by making the player backtrack a lot of the areas towards the end, but me being older now and more patient than when I played it back in 2001, I actually enjoyed these parts better now. It gives a sense of the scale of the Halo ring planet you discover and it actually makes you feel the struggle of fighting your way back rather than ending it abruptly with a cutscene.
        • Halo 2 is the opposite of the first game's rather conservative and slow changing settings. Every location is distinctly different; layout, colours and type of environments are really mixed up nicely in H2. Though there's a more abrupt change from level to level, H1 felt more like one big part. The dangers of the Covenant are more apparent too, with fighting and attacks towards earth taking place. The sheer variation is impressive for a fairly old game like this and it's further shown when you take part as a Covenant and play from their perspective. The remastered graphics are really great too and breath new life into the game. At times the anniversary graphics look better than Halo 3.
        • Halo 3 takes the formula from both 1 and 2 and mixes it in a smart way. It retains the variation of settings from Halo 2, but kind of connects each level with each other. Once again it feels like one long journey just like the first game. Halo 3 really turns up the amount of enemies and vehicles from H2 thanks to the game being on the new Xbox 360 platform back then. The fighting often takes place on rather large areas, giving me almost a feeling of playing an online session of the Battlefield games. Halo 3 is probably my favourite in the series, varying from bright locations to dark ones, from huge open battleields to corridor shooting. Mainly Halo 3 feels very open and it takes great use of vehicles at your disposal. I really appreciate them taking down the graphical detail a notch for having more enemies, bigger areas and more clever AI than other games from it's generation.
        • Halo 4 is a testament to how far you could push the Xbox 360 graphically, it looks incredible still. At times it almost gives me a Metroid Prime feeling with it's varied planets, helmet visor HUD and alien landscapes. The scale of the battleifeilds are taken down slightly from Halo 3 though, it may still have some fairly big battles, but it's more tied down to smaller areas and corridors. I'm guessing the graphical lift went at a cost back on the old hardware. Halo 4 is very different than Halo 3, but I really think it's for the good. In fact, I enjoyed that Halo 4 didn't just take the Halo 3 formula and copy everything, it makes playing them after each other two distinctly different experiences.

          My original Halo 4 review for the Xbox 360 can be found here.
        • Halo 3: ODST (DLC) is a spin-off of Halo 3 and takes part during the New Mombasa attack. You play as a Orbital Drop Shock Trooper that, you guessed it, gets dropped over the city to fight the Covenant. I really like the difference this game has in style and approach to the original Halo 3. It has a much darker and melancholic theme, with a fitting soundtrack accompanying it's loneliness and atmosphere.The ODST soldier you play has to investigate the city at night and find his other troop members by investigating clues at crash sites. Doing so gives you a flashback to what happened and thus gives  the game a varied new mission level, spanning different environments and settings. ODST should be recognised for it's different approach to a Halo game and showing other struggles than Master Chief's story.

          My original Halo 3: ODST review for the Xbox 360 can be found here.

        There you have my opinions of the four Halo games, included to this superb collection was a unique opportunity to try out the multiplayer beta of Halo 5. Which I did just after the new year began. It's nice to see it focuses on the 60fps framerate, which seems to have become a industry standard for online shooters on consoles after Call of Duty's huge success in the last generation. I have a positive feeling that 343 are really going to deliver something special with Halo 5 and after the glimpses we witnessed at E3 this year I doubt we'll be disapointed!

        Halo 3
        Halo 3
        Halo 4
        Halo 4

        If you have never played the Halo games, perhaps the Xbox One is your first Xbox console? Then I warmly recommended picking this package up, with most the multiplayer bugs fixed and the fantastic value for money with four incredible shooters in one game; you really are in for a treat. The framerate boost and resolution bump give an even higher enjoyment of some of the most memorable first person shooters made.

        The Halo gameplay feels more like an older type of shooter, relying a lot on your movement and dodging skills, while firing from your hip, rather than iron-sights aiming like most of the newer shooters. This type of gameplay really holds up well and, in my experience at least, never becomes boring. It's about movement skill more than pin point aiming accuracy. You'll be coming back to play ever so often. I can't stress enough that the gameplay really feels even more precise, smooth and overhauled with the framerate boost.

        A legacy of games with hours and hours of entertainment, plus Halo 3: ODST is out now as a cheap DLC download for the collection too, get it and prepare for Halo 5 later this year! Play these games coop online with a friend if you have the chance and get even more enjoyment out of them too! Some of the best coop games made.



          + Plus points

          • Four amazing Halo games all shined up for your Xbox One. Great value for money!
          • 60fps goodness all the way.
          • Gameplay holds up well, so many years later.

          - Minus points

          • Buggy launch, especially regarding the multiplayer.
          • Local splitscreen has black bars and framedrops, they seem unoptimized.
          • All content should have been on the disc.

          Wednesday, 1 July 2015

          A few thoughts on the Final Fantasy VII remake

          Announced at this years E3 was Square Enix confirming a long awaited remake of their classic Final Fantasy VII game. A remake gamers have been waiting on for years as it is considered one of the best titles in the franchise. While I'm no huge FF fan I have understood that some of the older 2D titles in the franchise are often considered better games, FF6 for one is mentioned a lot.

          However, FF7 broke the barrier when it comes to public popularity. Everybody seemed to play FF7 when it was released on the first PlayStation in 1997. It's success was monumental and as such a remake has been something on the wishlist for many gamers since then, especially considering the varying quality of the games in the franchise since the release of FF7. It is perhaps one of the top ten most famous games of all time and is definitely in my top ten list of games I have enjoyed the most. So yes, a remake is for me as exciting as the many outspoken people on the net. I just prefer to stay calm, until we actually get more information of what the end product will be. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter none the less.

          So a remake then, what do I think about it? As much as I have hopeful thoughts about this remake, I do have my concerns. If we look at other remakes we have in fact two very well produced and popular remakes of two other classic PS1 games, from the same era as FF7. We have Resident Evil, originally released in 1996, remade on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002 (and actually further remastered into HD this year) which, although was fairly true to the original game, updated itself with new areas and ideas. It may have lost some of it's colourful palette for the time periods more grey, brown and gritty palette, but all in all it was an excellent revisit to the scary mansion and it's new changes were made for both new players and veterans alike.

          Tomb Raider, which originally released the same year as FF7, in 1997, received it's remake ten years later in 2007 and was dubbed Anniversary. It was perhaps even more true to the original than the RE remake. Adding new modern controls and a far less blocky design to it's levels. All in all just bringing it's visuals ten years further on and gives new players a change to feel the magic and atmosphere of the original without having it spoiled by dated visuals and clumsy controls. TR, unlike the RE remake, dared to change the controls and for the better in my opinion. Be gone tank controls!

          These two examples are perhaps the best I have as something I'd love to see the Final Fantasy VII remake become, yet within lies some problems. Should the FF7 remake simply copy the original to a tee, and HD enhance the exact backdrops of the original only in far more detailed graphics? Staying true to it's set camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds? Or should it go fully 3D with a third person perspective?

          I could argue I'd prefer the first example. I am perhaps scared that a fully 3D game will give another impression on areas you traverse, seeing things from Clouds perspective more than being a viewer from above. It alters the perception of and atmosphere in both good and bad ways. The colour palette and overall look of each location should be prioritized to be kept as distinct and close to the original. However parts that were simple designed and ugly in the original can of course the updated to be far more rich on details. A huge upgrade is needed for the characters to blend more into the backgrounds. Unlike Resident Evil's mansion rooms, more than often in FF7 the ambitious backdrops seemed like a 2D picture that some 3D characters walked across with some weird looking perspectives and often looked out of place.

          The good,

          the bad

          and the ugly.

          Talking about ugly, how should the actual character models be? The original FF7 cast has a weird way of depicting it's characters. First you have the fairly detailed CGI model, then you have the fine, but still basic, battle model of each character and then, sigh, you have the laughable simple and ugly 3D characters you traverse the world with. These 3D models looked bad back in 1997 and look like something of the geometry of a Lego figure. As such the character models need a tremendous make-over and remodelling, however some of the almost childish and anime like humour in FF7 looked kind of "cute" with it's simple Lego-like figures. How will such scenes translate to "realistic" characters? In my opinion the characters need to have a more anime or fantasy like appearance. Art over realism if you get my drift.

          There's a huge difference in remaking such an old game and remastering a one that was just from the last generation, much like how Final Fantasy X was remastered. Perhaps Square Enix should have done a remaster years ago instead of having the trouble of reconsidering how to translate the game in a remake fashion. Taking into consideration all the pros and cons of updating dialogue (remember the original only had text boxes), character style, basic animations (and humour) and the more "cartoonish" looks. Going full realism and gritty is something I really hope they avoid. I must mention that a fully 3D version of FF7 is possible as the Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII prequel game on the PlayStation Portable proved.

          I wait in suspense for what they deliver, and if the remake can bring me back to living out my first playthrough in the late 90's. I suppose fans should be prepared for quite a bit of changes being made to the game, but I really hope for keeping some of the magic and original charm that made FF7 such a true gaming classic.

          We will see, but Square Enix; don't...don't fuck with the music.