Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

First, let me wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy holiday, etc.

Second, my familial troubles have settled down somewhat, allowing me more time to do some reviews.

Third, even though programming takes precedence over blog posts, I'm trying to do more of both over the next few months.

So, without further ado, I'm going to do a bunch of mini-reviews of the games I've played recently.

P.S. I was also going to review: Unreal World (PC, v3.17), Empire:Total War (PC, 2009), Shadowrun Returns (PC, 2013), Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup Redux Review (PC, v0.10.2) Part2 and Final Fantasy 13 (PS3, 2010). I have run out of time, hopefully my next post will contain some of the above.

Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010)

Heavy Rain is a new breed adventure game involving a murder mystery. Players take control of the four main characters, at different points along the story, eventually leading to one of many story conclusions.

Gameplay is simple and laden with QTEs, players who loathe QTEs should stay clear. Graphics are crisp, even though character animations can be a bit dopey at times. Character voice acting and design are thoughtful and well directed. The story itself is an engaging ride, with a lot of thrills, explosions, games and close escapes.

The major flaws of Heavy Rain are the bugs. Load screen bugs, graphical bugs and game freezing; this is not what you expect from a console game and it does detract from the overall experience. One bug had me looking at a non-existent ticket (texture glitch), forcing me to restart the level.

Overall, Heavy Rain is a unique experience that will keep you entertained throughout. Re-play value is provided by different endings and achievements. If adventure games are not your cup of tea, I'd definitely recommend renting it, or borrowing it from a friend.


- The butler did it?

Bayonetta (PS3, 2010)

Bayonetta is sex and guns, well not exactly. Catsuit wearing women with guns will always get a lot of male attention, and Bayonetta is no exception. You play as the long-legged, gun-for-high-heels-toting, witch - Bayonetta - as she blasts her way through a bunch of angelic malefactors, or maybe Bayonetta is the malefactor - I never could tell who were the good guys.

The story revolves around a lost witches sect and Bayonetta's role during its collapse. Grotesque angels seek to thwart, the seemingly cursed Bayonetta, as she fights to regain her forgotten memories. As with all fighting games, enemies begin weak and steadily increase in difficulty, forcing players to adapt their fighting patterns, or learn new tricks to beat opponents into angel dust (pcp?).

Gameplay involves combos between guns and weaves(magic), as Bayonetta's spell focus is her long black hair. As you can expect from a Japanese action game: over the top boss battles, with multiple stages; large amounts of oddball humor and sexual innuendo; decent difficulty; a load of unlocks and collectables; mini-games; etc.

Graphics are adequate, but the highlight for me was the detail and variety of angel designs. A number of annoying graphical glitches are apparent in the PS3 version. It's reported that the Xbox 360 version of the game is technically superior and the PS3 version was lazily ported, which is a shame.

Bayonetta can't help but exploit it's fetishistic elements and mix in some pretty decent arcade beat'em up action. If you need an action fix with some quirky design and some cool moves, Bayonetta should fit the bill.


-Fly me to the moon, and let me sail upon the stars.

Lollipop Chainsaw (PS3,  2012)

Ach, Zombie! Lollipop Chainsaw is a very interesting game. It's like an exploitation movie, but it's an exploitation video game. I can tell straight away that people who "professionally" review games for the first 10-20 minutes of gameplay, would hate this game. It does start slowly, it's very rude, it's linear, and the characters and storyline aren't very compelling, BUT if you stick with the game it's best features will shine through.

The player is introduced to Juliet Starling, a ditzy cliche blonde cheerleader in love with a jock, and today is her birthday. Late for her date, Juliet finds her school under siege by a zombie horde and it's up to her secret zombie slaying (Buffy?) abilities to save the day.

Juliet favours a pink, rainbow and hearts themed chainsaw to behead and sever zombie limbs mixed with dazing pom-pom attacks. Gameplay consists of chaining pom-pom and chainsaw combos for the best zombie multi-kills, earning large rewards of coins - unlocking new skills, powerups, and collectables. Of course lollipops, scattered throughout the levels, are used for healing Juliet.

So what makes this game good? It's linear; the combat is pretty bland, until you unlock more moves; zombies have been done to death; it's a short game; has a mediocre story; yada, yada. Now with any Suda51 game there is always more than meets the eye. People should really approach Lollipop Chainsaw more like a 90s arcade game than a modern console game.

The music is fantastic, Little Jimmy Urine (MSI) and Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) have really nailed a good cross-section of genres and styles. You'll hear 80s pop, 90s rock, metal, electronica, dubstep remixes, and much more. Of all the elements of Lollipop Chainsaw the music alone is probably the most memorable.

Another highlight of the game are the boss designs. Bosses have a lot of personality and come in different levels of weird and obnoxious. Encountering bosses is really fun as they use a mix of musical-zombie themed theatrical attacks on Juliet. Of course, being a Japanese action game, bosses have many different forms - magical zombies tend to be pretty tough to kill.

The last feature that should grab your attention is the overall game design. The themes are both cliched and wild; the humor is overboard, with a lot of pop references and vulgarity; levels are distinctly themed; and the difficulty was never overwhelming (playing on hard). Lollipop mixes violence and comedy with a cheerleader thrown in. Personally, I think Lollipop chainsaw is an allegory for the American Halloween holiday - you have girls running around in sexy costumes, while everyone else is dressed as monsters or pop references.

Suda51 makes games for the outsiders: unapologetic, dirty, bucking the trend and embracing the niche. People who like action arcade games, mixed with a glorious soundtrack, filled with zombies, should check out Lollipop Chainsaw.


-Oh Mickey, your so fine, your so fine, you blow my mind!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Update, Family and Code

Hi Everyone,

Haven't been able to post any reviews lately, and it has been a long time. I've been meaning to post an Expeditions:Conquistador review, but projects and family issues have cropped up.

Recently, I've been asked to prototype an iOS Apple App for a new startup company. And it has generally sapped my free time away from games and into Objective-C and XCode. Hopefully this won't take too long to produce, but new things are always a bit tricky and I want to do a really good job.

To top things off, there is a very serious family issue developing that needs my utmost attention.

Games, especially good games, take a serious amount of time to play, enjoy, or hate, and review. I'll probably be taking a pretty long hiatus until I find some spare time, or I might change my reviews to be shorter, or focus on games I've already played.

Thanks for reading, and just like the Terminator - I'll be back!
-S. W.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Review: Ragnarok Online 2

Korean MMORPGs can be best described as a mixed bag, some are good and some are terrible. In the early and mid (20)00s, Ragnarok Online (RO) was one of the most successful and popular MMO ever created. A legendary game, built upon and championed by diehard fans and their private servers. Fast forward to 2013 and, after a revision of the first sequel, Ragnarok Online 2: Legend of the Second (RO2) is finally released internationally.

Based loosely upon Norse mythology, RO2 tells the story of the Kingdom of Midgard and its struggle with evil forces. RO2, when comparing it to the original Ragnarok, has tried to bring the story into a central aspect of the game. Unfortunately, telling such a forced storyline leads the gameplay into a linear experience. Norse mythology is a wonderful base to start from, and the original Ragnarok had such great in-game lore. But I found with RO2 we are given a boring path to follow, lined with slightly stronger enemies the further you travel.

Solid gameplay mechanics are fundamental to any MMO, or any other game's success. Sadly, RO2 has made the mistake of playing it easy. The original Ragnarok was fast-paced and required a fair amount of statistical building or practical experience. RO2 removes all of the original Ragnarok's vim and difficulty. It's truly a dull and watered down experience, featuring boring button mashing, useless character development and a lukewarm skill system. There is just no fire or depth to the gameplay.

New gameplay elements include: a revised card system, involving slotting the character instead of weapons; a job system overhaul; an achievement and title feature called the khara system; and gear heavy, instead of character statistic heavy progression. Most of the original's gameplay elements have either been a watered-down replacement or removed entirely.

RO2 is based on the free to play model. No upfront cost to play, but some central features have been cut to allow the publisher to profit, the card album being an example. Free to play is definitely a two-edged sword, and players should be reminded that nothing is ever truly free.

Graphics wise, RO2 is standard anime inspired fare. Mediocre graphics opens the game up to more players, but it does date the game, making it look 5 years older than it should. The cities are pretty and well sized, but lack interaction. Character design is pretty boring and many characters look the same.

Comparing RO2's music to the original's isn't going to be fair. Ragnarok's music was one of its best features, and could arguably be one of the best in MMO history. I'm sure fans of the game, even today, could hear the original's music and be instantly transported back in time. RO2's music, on the other hand, is serviceable, but not memorable.

I think RO2 was always going to be a hard-win for any dveloper and publishing company. RO2 had very deep shoes to fill, and I think they have failed to properly honor Ragnarok's legacy. Many fans will play RO2 for nostalgia reasons only, but all of them will realize that it isn't a true Ragnarok Online sequel.


-A mediocre and bland experience

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Review: Don't Starve

Survival games come in all shapes and sizes, and indie developer, Klei Interactive, has released their  small scale, day to day survival game Don't Starve. Featuring a sinister Victorian motif and quirky humor, Don't Starve seeks to challenge the player against the elements and force a struggle for survival and sanity.

The player starts the game by adjusting the world creation and selecting a character. The sandbox world can be tailored to make the days longer or for areas to have more, or less resources. In the beginning, players may only choose the gentleman-scientist Wilson. As you play further, characters are unlocked featuring special abilities such as fire immunity or greater strength.

Unceremoniously dropped into the new world, the game's antagonist, Maxwell, seeks to torture your mind and body for trespassing into his secret portal. Don't Starve is light on the story, but instead heavily focused on the world and your interactions within it. Think, build and fight your way to survival; utilising both land resources and tools, hopefully surviving to see the new day dawn.

There is only one passive save game; there is no going back. If you die, your save is wiped and you'll have to start over. This design decision allows players who survive a great sense of achievement. Surviving your first winter is a very big achievement, as resources dwindle and the player may even freeze to death. Fire is often your greatest ally, but it can also, figuratively, burn down the house.

As the player delves further into the game, strategies, survival tactics and personal safety rules are developed. Storing food for the winter, stockpiling, scouting new resources, dealing with threats, farming, cooking and resurrection will need to be managed on a day to day basis. Wasting time is possibly the worst mistake players can make; successfully managing your time allows characters to survive and further explore the new world.

After playing for an extended period of time, Don't Starve's difficulty does eventually plateau. The end game consists of either entering Maxwell's adventure mode portal, pitting players against a reduced resource and environmental challenge, spanning five custom worlds; or trigger a portal leading into a new sandbox world. After you die or complete a world experience, XP, is awarded unlocking new characters.

Don't Starve has a few niggling problems, but nothing that detracts from the overall experience. It's roguelike gameplay design decisions are quite evident. If you need a game that will distract you for a couple of hours, Don't Starve fits the bill perfectly.

Don't Starve is currently on sale for $14.99 on Steam, Amazon and Google, and  $11.99 on GoG.


-Winter is coming!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Review: Bioshock Infinite

The latest installment of the shock franchise, Bioshock Infinite, developed by Irrational Games and designed by Ken Levine, was released this March along a wave, or more aptly, gust of hype. Infinite seeks to take the player away from the depths of rapturous seas and instead send them floating amongst the clouds. Featuring a whole new cast and location, Infinite has sought to create a new standard for the FPS/Adventure genre. The question is, did it succeed?

Set at the turn of the 20th century, Infinite begins with the player being introduced as Booker DeWitt, former Pinkerton gunman and Indian Wars veteran, suffering with visions and a hazy compulsion to rescue a captive girl. Who sent him is unknown, how he got there is unknown. It isn't long before Booker is baptised unto the marvelous man-made city in the sky, Columbia, whereupon he meets a girl named Elizabeth.

Infinite's gameplay is very similar to the earlier Bioshock games, the largest differences being skyrails connecting areas, Booker can utilise rails for tactical advantage during battle, and Elizabeth, who journeys with you providing motivation and material support. Otherwise, Infinite has a pretty stock, but uncluttered, FPS interface. Players are restricted to two weapons and assorted magical powers, called Vigors, which are synonymous to Bioshock's Plasmid powers.

The art and world creation of Columbia is truly outstanding; massive statues, floating skyscrapers, zeppelins and much more are masterfully crafted, immersive and genuinely fun to explore. I think, more than anything, discovering a new area with a new vista, is one of Infinite's greatest achievements. I strongly advise players to take non-combat areas as slowly as possible and enjoy the view.

The music in Infinite ranges from gospel to more modern offerings. Pleasantly surprising is the best way to describe Infinite's soundtrack. The sound effects are crisp and the voice acting is solid, but nothing truly amazing.

The largest controversy, discussion and potential legacy concerning Infinite will revolve around its story and themes. Where do I start? Some people will get angry, some will get confused and others wont question it and just accept it. The main protagonist is Elizabeth, and through her we learn about Infinite's antagonists and the mysterious player character, Booker DeWitt. Unfortunately, Infinite's storytelling mechanic is put through the space and time wringer, which often ends with mixed results. Thematically, Infinite ranges from overt (racism, slavery, revolution, religion, politics) to the more covert (meaning of life, trust, freedom, family).

I should mention some bad points that stuck out during my playthrough. The two weapon restriction is probably the most notable let down; so many interesting guns go unused for the better part of the game, I barely used the volley gun for example. The second largest flaw would be Infinite's almost linear pathing, earlier Bioshock sneaking has taken a backseat and you'll find yourself traveling from fight, to set piece, to fight again. Other little niggles include: resurrections costing money and a console checkpoint save system on the PC.

I have to give kudos to Irrational for including 1999 difficulty mode, which I recommend everyone should play on, and for all the nice references to the previous shock videogames.

Bioshock Infinite is available from Irrational's website, Steam and Amazon online store.


Monday, 21 January 2013

Review: Jagged Alliance Crossfire

Jagged Alliance: Crossfire (JA:C) is a standalone spin-off of Jagged Alliance: Back In Action (JA:BiA), itself an updated reboot of Jagged Alliance 2. JA:C features a new setting, with an all new power stuggle over the fate of a small nation. Players, as usual for the Jagged Alliance series, take command over a small team of mercenaries whose job is to remove a despot from power, for the right amount of money of course.

JA:C takes place in Khanpaa, a small mountainous country, that has been ravaged by civil unrest. Religious and political turmoil has born a broken society and a country ripe for mercenaries to ply their trade. As a mercenary commander, the player is hired to cleanse the countryside of hostile forces and to unseat the local despot from power. Players are given a mission briefing and a wad of cash to start their campaign.

The game starts with players hiring their mercenary team. Each mercenary comes with a price, equipment and personality. Generally, a more expensive mercenary is better trained and comes with advanced starting gear. Players start with limited funds, so choosing an single advanced merc over a small team will need to be considered. As with all Jagged Alliance games, mercs gain experience and skill in the field, and optional mercenaries may join you during the game. Having a balanced mercenary team, with good equipment, opens the path to easy victories.

Gameplay consists of conducting you mercenaries from a top down local map viewpoint. A large overland map is also used to move you mercenaries from area to area. During skirmishes, players direct their mercenary unit into position, hopefully using careful planning and tactics, to rain death onto your enemies. Ambushing, stealth, explosives, night attacks, defensive firing lines and running away are just a few strategies you will probably encounter when playing the game. JA:C uses JA:BiA's real-time and pause "plan and go" system, which allows players to micromanage their mercenaries actions.


My playthrough consisted of a women only "Amazon" party, built to avoid personality conflicts and to improve morale - no lesbo. I found the game to be quite fun as the team sniped and blasted its way through the country side, towns and foes. An added strategical burden was keeping my weapons repaired, as there are few female mercenaries with mechanical ability, no relatively cheap ones anyway. Nevertheless, the further my team pushed into the country the harder the combat became, forcing me to gopher medical and ammunition supplies to the front lines from the secured rear. I was probably advancing too fast for my supplies to keep up.

JA:C is a pretty decent strategy game, but unfortunately it does come with its fair share of bugs. Some engine bugs, left over from JA:BiA, are still present and you'll probably come across a few that nobody else has ever seen before. PC gaming and bugs go hand-in-hand, and some bugs can be overlooked if they don't ruin the overall experience. I think, generally speaking, that the bugs in JA:C aren't show stoppers, but are just generally annoying. If you hate bugs than there is a good chance you'll hate JA:C.

If you love strategy, and can forgive a handful of annoying bugs, I think you can have a wonderful time with this game. It isn't a classic like Jagged Alliance 2, but it's a pretty decent spin-off from the original game.


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year, Update and New Reviews

Happy New Year! 2013, and all of us Mayan apocalypse survivors, does life get any better? I hope everyone had fun, partied and consumed a moderate amount of alcohol. A new year mean new games and technology, which means more things to blog about, so keep tuned in via twitter, facebook or subscribe through blogger.

Since mid December, a number of sites around the internet have been featuring sales. Steam, GoG and Greenman Gaming are a few online retailers featuring discounts on digital downloads and publisher bundles. This year, during the Steam Summer Sales, I'll try to post a day-to-day blog entry and give a mini-review and rating on the best deals. Readers may also comment below the entry if they have an alternate opinion or mini-review..

Speaking of Steam, the current sale is remarkably conservative compared to last year's, and I hope Steam returns to a more adventurous and fun Winter Sale in 2013. In contrast to Steam, GoG has been having a blinding sale season with great deals and genuine festivity. Did everyone get their free copy of Duke3D:Atomic Edition? Thank you, GoG.

Finally, a small list of upcoming gaming and tech releases in 2013:
  • Steam Box, Valve's console offering. Looking to capitalize in an uncertain market, the Steam Box is slated for a Q1 2013 release.
  • Bioshock Infinite - to boob, or not to boob: that is the question. Will it live up to its "shock" series predecessors?
  • A series of Kickstarters should come to fruition, including Anita Sarkessian's Tropes series.
  • Company of Heroes 2, Aliens: Colonial Marine and much more.

Cheers to you and goodbye, 2012.