Beyond: Two Souls

b2s_4In an extremely busy period for big release games I found myself getting very excited for Quantic Dream’s follow-up to the sublime Heavy Rain. This time casting in A-List acting talents in the form of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe to take you on a supernatural journey. Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie who has another soul attached to her who goes by the name of Aiden, the storyline jumps back and forth in Jodie’s lifetime and how she comes to terms with having this unusual burden. Much like Heavy Rain the game plays out as if it were a movie but you are in control of the character, for example, during a fight scene when Jodie needs to punch or dodge you have to flick the right thumbstick in the direction she needs to move in.

The appeal of having the game being wholly narrative based is that you are in control of how the narrative turns out, you make Jodie’s decisions to determine where she ends up at the end. Heavy Rain had this element of control just right having you constantly gripped and thinking about what to do next, however with Beyond I found there didn’t seem to be enough decisions to choose from, it all seemed far too planned. And overall this is where Beyond falls short, it feels as though you are never in control, even if the fight scenes if you fail to do the right moves the outcome will always end up the same, although there are number of possible endings and various other story strands it’s never made clear and it always feels as though you’re just being guided through the pre-written storyline. The graphics and design of the whole project is phenomenal and the performances from all the actors, especially Page is really impressive, but once the initial buzz of excitement from the first few scenes fades it quickly becomes tedious to give the odd thumbstick flick in an attempt to keep you involved in the game. The narrative itself has moments of absolute brilliance and the paranormal element makes for some really interesting moments but particularly in the middle section the whole thing just droops and becomes a chore to get through. The ending goes some way to redeeming this but again feels far too contrived with far too little freedom to decide Jodie’s fate.

In short, there are moments where Beyond is really, really good but ultimately it feels as though the makers just wanted to make a movie. It seems there is less gameplay than Heavy Rain and really they should have gone in the opposite direction, whilst it’s a very inventive new method of storytelling it feels as though they are not making the most of what is essentially a game!

 

Grand Theft Auto V

gta5screenSo the blog has been pretty neglected over the last few weeks, as it always is when I attempt to get back into the relaxed style of university life but this week I have an extra special number of reviews planned beginning with this ridiculously late review of the game that kept from writing for a number of weeks. The highly anticipated GTA V was probably the most excited I have ever been for a game release, especially after it was pushed back from an early summer release to mid-September. The excitement was so unbearable that attending the midnight release was unavoidable, being naive I thought the midnight release would be a pretty relaxed thing with a few people milling about the game shop and picking up their copy. What we were greeted with was a queue that literally spread down half the high street meaning we had about a two and a half hour wait ahead of us. While the wait was painful it all became well worth it when we returned home for the first night/morning gaming binge that would quickly become a regular occurrence.

Pretty much since Vice City the Grand Theft Auto series has been my favourite of all the gaming franchises and one of the great things about it is that every time a new game is released in the series it really has been improved upon in almost every aspect. After the sublime GTA IV Rockstar really did have their work cut out for them this time but they’ve pulled it off yet again. This time round the main campaign consists of three main characters all of which have their own missions and joint ones. You’re free to switch between any character at any time. Setting wise, we find ourselves back in San Andreas albeit an updated, bigger version with the addition of Blaine County which is one of the games greatest features as it means that as well as roaming round the city causing havoc you can also head for the mountains and take the chase off-road. This GTA is by far the most cinematic yet with the sun soaked sky beating down on your epic crime adventure while it’s story may not be as good as The Last of Us, for sheer fun GTA V gives a challenge for being the new greatest game of all time. Then there’s the addition of the new, updated GTA Online which for me, is the funnest online multiplayer mode any money can buy, you can free roam, perform missions, races, death matches, parachute jumps and pretty much do anything you can think of all with the helpful and addictive element of online competition.

Overall GTA V is perhaps the most complete gaming package that has ever been created, if you were ever told there was only one game you could play there wouldn’t be a better choice than this.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

tom-clancys-splinter-cell-blacklistThere are few game series that have managed to continue successfully on the current gen of consoles while largely retaining the same premise as their original incarnations. Splinter Cell, however, is one of the few that has remained mostly true to its roots. Despite this its last few efforts have been rather short of the quality the original trilogy had. Double Agent was fun but too short and failed to really utilise the power of these new consoles and Conviction, only being released on the 360 for some bizarre reason, I can’t judge as I haven’t played. With Blacklist though I was more than ready to jump back into Sam Fishers lightweight, custom made black boots. And as you may have noticed from this, rather rambly, opening paragraph not much has changed in the conventions of this stealth action-er but Blacklist does mark a return to form for the, once classic, series.

The missions in Blacklist are pretty rigidly structured, after you’ve done a few you know what to expect from the rest, that’s not to say though that they get more boring. Quite the contrary, as you get to grips with the control system, the AI, and different options you could take your mission it gets all the more entertaining figuring out exactly how you’re going to work your way through. Blacklist is one of the best games I’ve come across where you really can choose how you want to play, you can choose to be a ghost and leave absolutely no trace whatsoever, or a panther; remain silent but brutal. Or, of course, you smash your way through all guns blazing and kill everyone off in active combat. And for once no option seems particularly more difficult, less rewarded or, most importantly, less fun. While, as has always been the case with Splinter Cell, you want to be a slick mover and aim to get the ghost rating, in Blacklist it can be just as fun to go on the assault and you’re rewarded with gadgets and trophies for doing so just as much. When you get to the end of the main campaigns, criminally short, thirteen missions you will be pleased to find there are an array of other 4th echelon missions you can find yourself playing through. These missions actually end up being some of the most fun and hardest on the game and as an added bonus all of them have the option to be played in co-op. Its a very rare thing to find co-op playable games these days so Blacklist gives itself instantly more worth than other games that might have better main campaigns in my opinion. It seems same-console multiplayer is a dying art but it’s still a huge selling point for me. The online multiplayer is especially fun as well, offering a fresh new game modes that don’t just use exactly the same conventions as every other game.

Overall Blacklist offers one of the most complete game packages your money could buy you and though the story may leave a lot to be desired there’s more than enough extra stuff to make this the best Splinter Cell since Chaos Theory.

The Last of Us

The-Last-Of-Us-Wallpaper-HD-Screenshot-GameI’m slightly behind the rest of the gaming world in writing my review for Last of Us and I spent a while deciding whether it was worth reviewing as so much has already been said about it. But as I work through my second play through of the campaign I don’t how I couldn’t write something up about this game and why it completely deserves all the praise that it’s had. Set in a post-apocalyptic environment you play as Joel, whose own daughter was killed in the initial chaos, the main story begins 20 years on from this and Joel and his partner Tess are asked to smuggle a young girl, Ellie, across the state and get here to the elusive Firefly group as she is believed to be immune to the zombie infection and could therefore be the key to finding a cure.

The Last of Us marks the biggest step up in game story-telling since the likes of Heavy Rain, its plot unfolds like a film and the fact that you play through only adds to emotional impact. Where in the past games have failed to find a healthy balance between story and gameplay The Last of Us gets it pitch perfect. While the aforementioned Heavy Rain delivered an immersive, well-told story I would argue that it was more an interactive motion picture whereas TLOU is without doubt a video game. It takes well-known elements and conventions from games and does them better than ever before, with innovative level types which require a range of different methods to work your way through and offer a difficult challenge without being painfully hard. It perfectly brings you a familiar feel of gaming that you will have been used to for a long time, meaning it’s easy to pick up, great fun to play, and doesn’t take anything away from the games excellent story. The graphics are absolutely stunning as well, with vibrant colours bursting out when you walk through deserted cities, ridiculously detailed human features and smooth well-designed action animations that really prove how good the PS3 can be while leaving you wondering how the hell the PS4 is going to top this! The multiplayer mode is fairly basic but offers an additional way to play the game and explore the expertly designed environments with enough challenges and unlocks to keep you entertained enough to play through its own campaign-type quests.

What TLOU marks is the beginning of gaming on a large scale being an art form. It shows the world how video games can tell a story effectively and emotively in the same way films and tv shows do and still contains the features that got you into gaming in the first place. When the critics say this is the best game of all time they’re not wrong and with the PS4 and Xbox One Just around the corner this a fine way to say farewell to a fantastic console. (With GTA V yet to come as well the farewell celebrations to this generation of consoles is only going to get bigger).

 

Dishonored

2283592-au9bpOne of the big gaming hits of recent months has been this interesting first person adventure, Dishonored. Set in a fictional time and place the game combines elements of Victorian style and weaponry with magic and mystery to create one of the most unique games, stylistically, in a long time. The gameplay is mostly based around stealth but can be played a number of different ways (high, medium or low chaos) and the way you chose does make differences to the outcome of the plot. You play as an assassin, Corvo, after his wife is murdered and daughter kidnapped he is framed for the killing and is forced to run away as a fugitive. As he attempts to retrieve his daughter he uncovers a conspiracy behind within the government that are out to get him.

The story, while, stylistically original, is ultimately pretty predictable and although the game is mostly story driven the cut scenes are brief. A feature I’m usually pleased to see as often games get bogged down with too many cutscenes but it seems that Dishonored doesn’t quite do its vividly designed environment justice. It is one of the most interesting settings for a game and a lot of work has clearly gone in to it but the story seems underdeveloped really. The fighting is fairly unique too, mainly based around swordplay, projectile weapons are available but you only really use them to get out of a sticky situation, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with well designed sword fighting action but Dishonored is one of the better ones. It has great execution animations with a nice amount of gore but when you find yourself locked in combat between a number of enemies the control system doesn’t really allow you enough control over how things pan out, I eventually began just running away and hiding if I found myself having to fight off too many enemies. Another interesting feature is the magic abilities that you pick up along the way, when you first attain them is good fun getting to know how to utilise them but by the time you’ve got them all it feels like there are just too many to be able to get to grips with them all and the length of the campaign doesn’t give you enough time to fully get to grips with all the game has to offer.

Overall I think Dishonored becomes its own worst enemy, it is overall a fun game but, it lets itself down by trying to cram too much in in an underdeveloped and predictable storyline. There is a hell of a lot of potential here and it is one of the most unique games I’ve played in ages but it fails to fully utilise it’s great elements. Hopefully if they do a sequel it’ll all come together slightly better, there’s potential here for an incredible new franchise if Bethesda play it right.

 

Metro: Last Light

MetroLL_1080p_8.bmpSet in a post-apocalyptic world Metro: Last Light follows up 2010’s Metro 2033. Being a PS3 owner I’ve never played the original as for some reason it was never released for Playstation so I can not compare the two. What I do know though is that Last Light was a bigger budget affair with a completely original story line. You play as Artyom and your mission is to find The Dark One who is believed to be the key to the survival of the human race. To do so you must navigate your way through the metro tunnels and stations, as well as explore the deserted Earth above you. It’s a diverse game pitting you against monsters and enemy humans alternately as you work your way through a gripping story of the supernatural.

I’m not the biggest fan of FPS games, mainly because I’m not the into the whole online stuff, so I more often opt for a third person adventure game as they tend to have a better story line. Last Light however, is an FPS that is only concerned with story, there is no online mode or any other mode than the story for that matter. And you can see why as this is one of the richest campaigns I have ever played. The story keeps you gripped from beginning to end (though I must admit I was slightly lost at first having not played 2033) and makes the game a tense affair as you work your through the levels and the plot unravels.

The graphics are absolutely stunning, some of the best I’ve ever seen on PS3. There’s a permanent darkness over every shot but it still manages to look beautiful even when you’re creeping through some filthy tunnels. The monsters are well crafted if slightly generic beasts and the humans look great too making for a realistic gaming experience. The levels take a while to get into the swing, the first few are too heavily cut up with cut scenes and lessons, you’re told how to play the game for too long basically, but once you get past it you’re greeted with a wide variety of stages with varying levels of difficulty all of which require different techniques to get through. Some missions reminded of the Arkham games as you have to sneak around in the shadows picking off Rangers one by one, if you get caught you’re in trouble. Others are more about survival, particularly in the cave areas where you have to fight packs of beasts who come charging at you and you have to be fast with your guns to keep them from tearing you apart. Then there are the stages that are out in the open where the main challenge is keeping your gas mask filters fresh so as not to inhale the radiation and choke to death.

Overall the game is one of the best FPS’s I’ve ever played finding a great balance between action and horror, and managing to have a great storyline without smothering you with cut-scenes or QTE’s. My only qualm would be that it has no replay value and it would perhaps benefit from having something else perhaps a co-op campaign or a challenge mode like the Arkham games. Despite this in terms of story and gameplay this is definitely one worth playing and let’s hope it’s not the last we see from the Metro series.