Reviews

It’s My Destiny

It will come to no one’s surprise that I’ve been playing Destiny. I did play it for a while when it first came out, (as well as the PS4 Alpha & Beta), but then I put it aside for a couple months while I dove into the holiday games and became an assassin for a couple of months. Before I turn into a sackgirl I’ve been taking a break and playing Destiny. After the full on story of AC:Unity, I just wanted to play something  that was simple for my brain to process; point and shoot.

Simple isn’t really something Destiny does. Gameplay-wise, yes it’s straight forward, but the story keeps confusing me. You would think by now, I’m level 26, I’d be able to remember which are the Cabal and which are the fallen, but I keep getting my bad guys mixed up. I don’t know why I keep doing it, but I do. It could be that all of the aliens aren’t very alien. The only aliens I can consistently remember the name of are the Vex, but they’re all robots. Still, all of our invading alien races are humanoid in shape. I think this is what keeps confusing my brain. I’m sure the confusion is just me, but that aside I do wish the aliens were more alien. There are a couple of exceptions, but on the whole they’re humanoid. For once I’d like to see aliens that really look alien. My own character’s race is an alien, but I’m looking rather human-like.

The human shaped aliens and my goober brain aside, I do really like the story and the world. I like that for once it isn’t just a single bad guy come to take over the Earth. The enemies in Destiny not only don’t like us, but they don’t like each other as well. There are many times in the game when you’ll come across them fighting each other and paying you little mind until you decide to shoot them in the head. This gives a new dynamic to the conflict. The Earth isn’t just being invaded; it’s become a battlefield for these other races as much as it’s an invasion. Obviously when it comes to the gameplay in a situation like this you get the chance to use this to your own advantage and play them off each other to your advantage. With all this conflict going on I’m really excited to see what comes next and how the story evolves.

Speaking of the gameplay, this isn’t rocket science. The controls aren’t hard to memorise and they do have several different button layouts to choose from. I stuck with the default layout though and found it worked fine. A good button layout is one of my top priorities in a game. If I can’t re-map keys then there had better be options. I have giving up on games where the layout just didn’t work for me. Dark Souls was such a game where this happened to me; the buttons just didn’t work for me and made it harder for me to play. No problem here though and the button combinations for specials are easy to handle as well.

 

This is an FPS, so no shock that you’re in first person perspective shooting at things. Now, I am utterly shit at aiming on a console in first person, but once I got used to it I was pretty much okay. I do use a big gun that shoots a lot of bullets, so I do manage to hit things. The closest I get to a sniper rifle is my rocket launcher; point and boom. Destiny is the polar opposite of Borderlands 2 in their approach to the gun types available. There is a small selection of gun types and the power differences are minor. The main differences in power are between the rarity types; basic, uncommon, rare, legendary and exotic. I’m sure you’re all smart enough to understand the rarity scale.  You’re able to equip 3 weapon types for a variety of situations and preferences. You have your primary, special and heavy weapon. Basically it’s like this; kill, fucking kill, blow it the fuck up. One big perk with the weapons is that any weapon can be used by any class. So you truly get to use the type of weapon you like to use best. It’s the best approach a game can have to enable catering to different play styles. I personally favour the Auto Rifle for my primary, the Fusion Rifle for my Special and as mentioned the Rocket Launcher for my Heavy. If you shoot enough bullets fast enough you will eventually kill what you’re aiming at.

Combat can get a little frenzied at times and I must admit that after a couple of long intense missions my hands need to be pried off the PS4 controller. Some of the big strike missions feel like you never stop shooting and you’re always all tensed up shooting and running and shooting and hiding. Sometimes during these big fights I may scream, but they are really so much fun. The story missions are more paced and not the constant killing spree. The Strike missions are bigger and involve other players in co-op with yourself. These missions on average take around 30 minutes to complete and they are usually 2 or 3 stages of intense fighting. It’s in these that I get all amped up and clutch my controller rather tightly as I shoot everything in sight.

 

It could be that some of my tension comes from playing a Warlock. There are 3 classes; Titan, Hunter and Warlock. The Titan is the tank and big hitter, i.e., a fighter. The Hunter is the quick medium powered fighter, i.e., a rogue. The last is the Warlock which is the “magic” user, i.e., the weakling. During the alpha/beta I played a Hunter and I loved it a lot, but when I bought the game I went for the Warlock, because I didn’t want to be the fighter/tank class and I wanted something different. In my experience the Warlock is weaker in armour, but once you know that and adjust your play style you’re good to go. They have good ranged combat, such as awesome grenades, and you can get the ability to revive yourself. The Hunter is a very quick fighter with medium armour. Hunters are a good middle ground class. As mentioned, the Titans are the big bad fighters. They have good armour and can hit really hard. If you like running up and smacking the shit out of your enemies then you might want to play a Titan.

Destiny is a MMO though which means there are other people around, but the game mechanics allow for this and work well. You can choose to play through the main story with friends or on your own. When you’re out in the world you will see other players but you don’t have to talk to them. Same goes for the PUG Strike missions that require 3 players to play; you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to. Sometimes you get good random groups and sometimes you don’t, it’s always luck of the draw. The console servers are split, so Playstation and XBox. The Playstation servers aren’t region split, e.g., UK can play with Canada. Most likely the XBox servers aren’t region split either, but as I don’t own the game on the XBox I couldn’t tell you for sure.

As you go through the game you get 2 transport modes. First is your ship that you go between planets in and the other is your Sparrow. The sparrow is kind of like the speeders in Star Wars. You use the Sparrows for zipping around on the planets’ surfaces. They’re great little things for getting places fast and they’re a lot of fun to ride. The big spaceship you have for going between planets is just cosmetic unfortunately. You can find or buy different ones, but currently they don’t do anything. It would be fun if Bungie created space skirmishes to use the spaceships in. I would suck fighting in space, but I think a lot of people would enjoy it and it’d be another game aspect to broaden the appeal. On some planets and in the PvP there are temporary vehicles you can use that also have weapons on them. Always be careful on any vehicle. You never want to be on it when it explodes; it hurts a lot.

To wrap up all this meandering through Destiny I’d like to touch on the PvP. As a general rule I don’t do PvP, but I have dabbled a little. There are 4 types of PvP so you should be able to find your favourite kind here. The one I usually opt for is Control and this is a 6 person per team based capture the flag type of scenario only there are multiple flags to capture and the other team can take them back and vice versa. You also have Clash; 2 teams of 6 competing for the most kills. Similarly you have Rumble which is a 6 player free for all everyone kills everyone scenario. The last is Skirmish and involves 2 teams of 3 players in a variation of team deathmatch. I don’t really enjoy PvP and prefer the co-op Strike missions, but the option is there for those who enjoy it. You can enjoy without ever touching the PvP and not be missing out.

Overall I am very happy with the game. Great action and story thrown into some beautiful environments. The videos and screenshots above are mine and I loved making them. If someone like me who is terrible at FPS games on the console can get to grips with it and enjoy it, then I think others will as well. Sure there is some grinding for gear, but that’s hardly unexpected for an MMO. For me even the grinding is fun though as I get to go through the bounties and revisit areas I barely survived through the first time.  The first DLC, The Dark Below, is already out and the next should be coming soon. I only get time to play on the weekends really, but feel free to add me if you’re playing on the PS3 or 4; just mention the site so I know how you found me.

~Donna


So… I have an Oculus Rift.

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That is to say, an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2.  Which is a Virtual Reality HMD (Head Mounted Display) – as opposed to some kind of smelly ailment cultivating product, which is what it sounds a bit like from the name.

Sony have also announced a similar solution for the PS4 available in the near future (albeit with some SERIOUSLY problematic demos)

The OcRift has been on the go for just over year, from a successful kickstarter campaign, through to a first prototype, a massive investment by some big name firms (including most (in)famously Facebook) and now a 2nd prototype (DK2) which is pretty close, I imagine, to the final product, despite protestations of still insufficient screen resolution (1920×1080, but with the horizontal split in two, 960 pixels per eye) – but given the sheer amount of horsepower to meet the idealized 75hz 1080p display, I doubt we’ll see a practical 1440p or 4K offering anytime soon.

I will be reporting on using the DK2 over the coming weeks, including re-jigging my near complete preview of Elite: Dangerous, for which EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED :O

Additionally, with any luck, I might be able comment on my own tentative haphazard steps into developing VR projects for the device.

Stay tuned…

More this:

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Less this:

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I’ll leave you with the ever energetic JackSepticEye to give you an idea what we’re talking about here…

 

 


Kill All The Nazis – Wolfenstein : The New Order

My first exposure to Wolfenstein was in the early 90s when Wolfenstein 3D came out. I was just beginning to get interested seriously in computer hardware and building PCs. Of course the best reason to build your own computer was to play all the best games. I’m sure you can see where this is going. These first entries into what would become the FPS genre of gaming were where I spent so many hours. There was no way I could pass this up even though I didn’t pre-order it.

Ya know it may be 2014, but taking a guy out while he’s taking a piss. Yes, I am a grown adult, but this still made me laugh. It’s just so over the top that it seems right in Wolfenstein. Besides, these have got to be the laziest guards ever.

Now I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I suck at being sneaky. Still though, this time I have managed to be as sneaky as a super sneaky thing. Only a little alarm but generally got through without having the whole of the camp coming after me. I tried to not move around real fast in this one and I did a bit of panning to show off how it looks on the PS4.

There is an easter egg in Wolfenstein that I’m eagerly looking forward to. I know where to go to get to it, but I’m not quite far enough in yet. Soon though I will be able to play the first level of Wolfenstein 3D. This one little easter egg alone makes buying the game worthwhile. I’ll make sure to get a video when I get in there though.

More soon, I promise.

~Donna

 


All I Need Is A Little Transistor

Every now and then a indie game dev will come a long and put out a game that immediately draws my eyes to it. SuperGiant Games has done just that with their recent release. Transistor is such a beauty to behold that when I watched the trailer for it I just didn’t care how it played; I needed to see more of it. This is a game that has some wonderful graphics. It’s like you’re interacting with a painting.

Have a look at this little video I did to show this very thing off. It started raining and things got a little fuzzy like rain drops on a windscreen.

 

So the story has a very Noir crime detective feel to it. Like 1930s type old school detective noir books. Bad guys and bad things went down in the place you’re singing at. Your character Red doesn’t speak. Her voice was stolen by the bad guys when they invaded the place, but your sword does talk. The sword is holding the “soul” of a man who appears to be your greatest admirer. The narration has this third person feel since Red doesn’t speak. If you play this on the PS4, go into the settings and turn on the controller speaker. All of the narration then comes out at your hands like you’re holding the sword. It does so much to the immersion.

 

 

The gameplay isn’t anything new, hit bad things with your big sword called Transistor. Now you can just hit things with the abilities your garner and combine or you can go into a screen freeze and chain moves. When you come out of the freeze the moves action as you planned them. This is especially useful when fighting bigger bad guys.  As you go through the game and the city, called Cloudbank, you gather other “souls” which give you abilities. These abilities can then be used as is, combined with other abilities to make something new, or they can be boosted with skills you earn. This makes for a lot of options when you’re playing and something isn’t working.

 

 

I have really enjoyed this game. It has some wonderful ideas about combat options, but above all that it is so amazing to look at. The artists at SuperGiant Games should be commended for the wonderful visuals they have provided. It’s indie developers like them that take something so simple and they give you something so interesting in return. I would put this game up on the same shelf as Flower and Journey. It is a game I recommend everyone play.

~Donna


My E3 Picks

So a few of my own highlight from yesterday’s announcements and I’m going to start with my top of the heap favourite. When I heard this news today I actually whooped a little. They’re remastering Grim Fandango.

Of course we have the beauty of the next Assassin’s Creed game. I’m really excited for this. It looks like the free running and combat has been changed and it looks good. I’m also happy to see more building interiors and a floating waypoint.

Then we have the wonderful news of another Uncharted and another Far Cry on the way for our loving joy.

And lastly we have a little puzzle game with some lovely art and should be with us soon; Valiant Hearts. Visually very stunning and just my sort of game.

 


Peeking In On Watch Dogs

I may or may not give up a full review of Watch Dogs, but I can assure you that I’ll be posting more videos to add to these ones. Last week I took Thursday and Friday off of work so that I could have a 4 day weekend of playing nothing but Watch Dogs. I have been waiting for a very long time for this game and I may be a little more than a little obsessed with it. This is of course more than my normal gaming obsession. I am pretty sure that someone has been peaking inside of my brain when they were coming up with ideas.

There’s something i need to say though before I go any further. Fucking stop comparing Watch Dogs to GTA!! I swear, if one more reviewer compares it to GTA I may kill someone. Yes Watch Dogs is a sandbox game. Yes it has main and side missions. Those are all traits of sandbox games, not just GTA. I love GTA, but it isn’t the be all end all of sandbox games. So stop fucking calling it a wanna-be GTA game. It’s not.

Okay, I suck at driving in any game. I rarely get to where I want to be in a very good condition. I will run into other cars and mow down pedestrians hopefully without blowing up my car. Now, driving in Watch Dogs isn’t the best. Some of the cars can be a little like driving bricks with wheels, but it is possible to get from point A to point B in one piece. Mostly this is aided by their nearly indestructible vehicles. I almost never get anywhere without side swiping a dozen cars and running head long into at least one car as I attempt to turn a corner.

I always try out the motorcycles in any game that has them cause I’m less likely to end up hurtling down the road as a fireball if the controls for it are any good. Usually they aren’t very good. This time though the motorcycles are my preferred mode of transport. Between the robustness of their structure I don’t blow up as often and I can actually go pretty fast.

Of course if I happen to misjudge an intersection I might get an impromptu flying lesson.

That second video is a little bit of showing off of the PS4 as well. Riding a motorcycle at night in the rain with a thunderstorm and it looks awesome. How could I not share that.

It’s not all about the cars though, you can steal the boats too. I have found this especially useful when I’ve managed to trigger the cops and they want my head on a platter. Solution; find a boat. I am generally very impressed by the NPC AI, but the cops are kinda stupid in this respect. Somehow they just become blind when you reach the water even if there are helicopters.

I’ll be back with more I’m sure, but for now here’s some proof that it’s not all about the videos. A lovely moody shot of our hero against the Chicago skyline.


Please Forgive Me, I Have Some PS4 Impressions for You

Yes, I know, I’ve been so majorly slack and crap that I have no excuse at all. I’m here now though and I have a shiny new PS4 to share with you all. Now, since I live in the UK I’ve only had this little beauty for just short of a month. Before you ask, no I did not go to a midnight launch. I pre-ordered it back in June when they announced it at E3. There was never any question about which console I was going to get this time around. I don’t normally buy at launch with consoles, but I’ve made a couple exceptions for Sony in the last year.  I got a Vita at launch and now the PS4. It is not a decision that I regret at all.

In the couple of months that I’ve now had the machine there is one clear winner in all of the new innovations and changes that Sony has made; the controller. When Sony was releasing pictures of the PS3, the controller was redesigned and had a boomerang like shape and the arms were round and tapered. There was huge outrage at the change from the original style of the DualShock controller so they stuck with the staid design and we didn’t get the new one and I was unhappy. See, I used to have one of the old Sidewinder gamepad controllers and they had this boomerang shape with the tapered round arms. This controller was very comfortable to use. So with the PS4 controllers we got a melding of the two. The DualShock shape is there, but the arms are round and tapered giving them this wonderful shape to hold in the hands. I have managed to play 4-5 hours at a time without getting that hook-hand effect that happens with the old DualShock controller shape. This is a change that was a long time coming and I’m so happy that they finally had the guts to make this change.

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On to the interface I think, which is very different. The most obvious change is that we no longer just have the single horizontal bar with all of our function icons.Instead we have two parallel horizontal bars. The top bar of  icon are the functional icons like previously; so trophies, PSN Store, trophies, etc. Thee icons are all self explanatory so I won’t really go into them. what I will mention is the improvements in the Trophy section. Unlike on the PS3, the sync and display here is much faster and won’t lock up the whole damned machine as it slowly contacts tot Sony servers to update. I was very happy to see this had been improved as it always drove me up a wall. Also, if a game has trophies for DLC, these are separated too, which is kinda nice too. The bottom row are your installed games like the old game icon on the PS3. The big change here is that by pressing down on the D-pad you can go into the detail for the game that includes current DLC, fried events and your current trophies and news for the game. I find this info very useful as I’ve missed DLC before and I like knowing what my friends have been getting up to in the games I’ve been playing. This is a good social addition I think.

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Speaking of social additions, we now have the Share button on the controller. This button will let you share video and screenshots to Twitter and Facebook. Now I’ve done a bit of sharing of screenshots and 1 video, neither are the full resolution of what you’re seeing on your screen. For the screenshots you can share them to Facebook or Twitter and the size is actually pretty good even if it has been shrunk, Videos can unfortunately only be uploaded to Facebook. Now the really big problem with this is that Facebook hides the HD better quality video though. Have a look at it here on the femme gamer FB page.

FB femme gamer video post

I ripped the HD video out of Facebook though and you can see it below. Still not as good as what I’m seeing on my TV, but it’s much better than the crap quality Facebook presents as default. I really would like to have more control over the quality and file size of what I share. Also, the ability to upload videos to YouTube or another such site would be most appreciated so e aren’t all hobbled with the crapness of Facebook.

Now that I’ve had the console for a couple months, I’m more than happy with my choice. It’s a great machine that has me moved flawlessly from my PS3 to the PS4. It was easy to get to grips with the interface, the game loads while installing is perfect. Sony has listened to all the gripes we had about the PS3 and they addressed them in the PS4. A couple of the most painful things on the PS3 was the syncing of trophies and exiting a game; they fixed it in the PS4. It is the small things with the new generation of the Playstation that has made me the happiest.

Oh, and it’s all very beautiful to look at.


Coming Back to Raid Tombs and Kick Ass (Tomb Raider)

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Like so many franchises, Tomb Raider has gotten a reboot. I went into this high hopes for the story since it was written by Rhianna Pratchett. While I will never forgive her for Mirror’s Edge, she did write the Overlord games which were wonderful fun.

I was not disappointed.

Rhianna gave us a believable beginning to an iconic gaming woman. A story that builds on the genius that is a young Lara that isn’t so self assured. From the beginning we are presented with someone who is not only smart but also insecure. She knows she’s right, but she doesn’t have the years of experience behind her to be the confident Lara we’re all used to seeing. I like this a lot. It shows a humble, if smart, beginnings of the confident woman. As we travel through to very well crafted story, she becomes more sure of herself. By the half-way point we’re seeing that familiar Lara and by the end you know she’s gotten a taste for something that she’ll never turn away from again.

I will say one thing about the whole “threat of rape” thing that was spinning a few months back. Yes she is threatened in this way, but she’s threatened with horrible-ness through the whole game, including murder. So yea, she is threatened, but it’s nothing to write home about.

TR Bow

Gameplay is what you would expect. Plenty of running and shooting and climbing ever surface in sight. The controls are all very easy to use straight out of the box. There are some quicktime events, but they’re unobtrusive and not a pain in the ass to do. I’m notoriously terrible at aiming shots in games like this but he aim assist saved me. So even if you’re rubbish at aiming, like me, don’t worry. I used the fucking hell out of the bow & arrow too. That thing was so awesome to use as an alternative to guns. One of my only complaints is that here really just wasn’t the amount of puzzles that I’ve come to expect from a Tomb Raider game. There are puzzles that are integral to the game, but it just felt a little lacking for me. You could tell what your upcoming tools would be simply by having a look around at what you couldn’t climb. Sure it was a little predictable, but I can forgive it this one thing.

I really liked the music and sounds of the game. They conveyed mood and drama very well. I didn’t find annoying, repetitive or boring. There’s not a lot I can say about the music than that.

TR Behind Scene

Visually the game is stunning. You have this deserted island full of mystery and wonder surrounded by this impossible storm. The world around you is rendered in a very believable way and really has been thought out and deigned nicely. It felt like a lost island filled with a mythical ancient story just waiting to be discovered. Also, video games have had hair issues for a long long time, but this has made some great improvements. On the PC version you get to use the TressFX engine which is a special engine for just rendering the hair. Just wish it had been in the console versions too.

Ya know  really did like he prequel a lot. My only gripes are the lack of more complex puzzles and it really felt kinda short. Even with doing a lot of exploring and completing about 90% of the game extras outside the main storyline; I only got about 16 hour of play from it. I know that’s pretty much normal these days, it still feels like it’s too short. This isn’t uncommon for me though, I don’t want the goodness to end.

Go get the game. It’s definitely worth it


Guacamelee

via GameInformer

I’ve come to appreciate co-op games as a form of marriage counseling.

It’s TRUE. Maybe he gets to be P1 Every. Single. Time., and yes, maybe he’s 100 million percent better at memorizing eulogy-length button-press combos, but at least I can gleefully hear him get his pixelated face smashed open and bask in his pleading for me to drop in and save his sorry butt.

Guacamelee encourages co-op through its life dynamics: when two are playing, then one player drops out, the dropped-out player becomes an immortal bubble. To drop back in, the player’s bubble must be hit by the other player — and when that happens, the newly-restored player gets allllll of his health back.

So, you can see what we did, right? Of course you can. We played the entire game through (getting every collectible, PS3 network trophy, and secret) by dropping in and out as necessary to NEVER DIE.

Another reason why I love this game: the artwork and the music are both beautiful. I’m a sucker for Dia de los Muertos themed stuff: my mother and my uncles spent a lot of time in Mexico when they were kids and my family has always kept some skull art around.

via Digital Spy

Look at that: isn’t that gorgeous? Influence from the “Samurai Jack” school of animation, influence from modern Mexico’s reinterpretation of Aztec and Mayan art, influence from the mashup of Catholicism and native pagan religion that is so uniquely Central America.

Boy Thing was a great asset to have when playing this game. He’s a Spaniard, you see — so Guacamelee was that much more hilarious, because he would burst out laughing at the Spanish-speakers-only jokes (and there are a few). He told me flat-out that the designer must be a native speaker, and he’s right: although Drinkbox Studios is a Canadian independent, the lead designer is from Mexico.

The lead designer is also a b-tard. Heads-up.

My favourite part of the gameplay was how balanced the fighting vs puzzling was. You fight and puzzle steadily throughout the game — and the puzzles were all fun and hilarious. Highlights: you get to be a chicken, and you get to swap dimensions from the world of the living into the world of the dead — and both of these things affect gameplay.

I had a lot of fun, especially when Boy Thing died a lot and I had to sigh and pick up the controller to kick my way through five or six enponcho’ed skeletons. Whoop.

9/10

– Alice.


On The Border of Borderlands 2

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I originally bought Borderlands 2 for The Hubby as he was a great fan of the first game. This time though he managed to rope me into playing it through with him using the co-op.  So we played through it together even though he’d already finished it and maxed his character and all that jazz. I very fast found myself becoming addicted to this game. We easily clocked up a good 20 hours of play that first weekend.

Many games have multiplayer, but usually it’s over the internet only. Not a lot of games have same machine on screen co-op and I’m always so happy to find ones that do so that me and The Hubby can play together. Although I have no idea how people with normal sized TVs do this. Ours is 50 inch and it’s barely big enough. TV size may be a post for another time. So, the fact that there was a co-op on same screen/system in the game made me happy. It was there in the first game too, but for some reason the first game just didn’t grab me like this one did.

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So we’ve finished it now and we’re currently on our second run through on the harder setting and it’s proving to be quite the challenge. On normal mode with 2 players, the game already scales things to be harder since there is more than one player. This is actually rather impressive. I watched The Hubby play it on solo and compared it with what we’d seen in normal and harder modes; there’s definitely a difference. The first thing is the amount of bad guys for you to kill, but also their toughness is subtly more hard to kill if you’ve got 2 players compared to one. In the Vault Hunter hard mode there are very obvious differences. The Badasses really are badasses and make you earn the XP you’re getting from them. The un-armoured Maniacs who run at you are suddenly Armoured Maniacs and a bit more of a challenge.

It’s brilliant. Seriously, Gearbox are fucking brilliant. The co-op is absolutely masterful.

I don’t know if I can explain the intelligence that the developers have coded into the co-op and the difficulty differences. They didn’t just decide to throw more bad guys at you just because there is 2+ people playing or to just crank up the hardness of those you gotta kill. No, they gave it some thought and it really makes the game that much more fun to play.

Intelligent difficulty instead of fucking hard for the sake of being fucking hard.

This intelligent design carries through all that they’ve done with the game. The button mapping (at least on the PS3) is smart and easy to use and remember. The inventory/mission/maps/etc screens are simple and easy to use. Something that made me extra happy is that they made it easy to compare weapons.  Nothing annoys me more than not being able to easily see if the big gun I jsut picked up is better than what I’m using.  With an easy interface, everything falls into place wonderfully for Borderlands 2.

The above would be nothing though without all the other bits and bobs that make a game great, like the sound and video.

Gearbox have taken that extra step with the graphics that leads you so much further from the photo realistic-ness of so many games out there. Yes it’s cell shaded and beautiful, but it’s also very stylised. This stylised approach really helps with world immersion and looks rather fabulous to boot. I really cannot fault the visual style and approach.

Now I really can’t say how much I like the music choice for the game. The title song is by The Heavy and is a song titled Short Change Hero. This song sets the scene well as the unlikely hero for the game and has this funk blues thing going on. The composers did a good job of integrating little riffs from the title song throughout the gameplay. You’ll end up humming this song hours after you’ve stopped playing. Of course the downside of this is that while you’re in the middle of your work day humming the song, you’ll end up really craving the game. I speak of this from experience as I’ve bought the album with the title song on it and now it keeps getting stuck in my brain.

So for the story we’re looking at the repercussions of the vault being opened in the first game. Your primary nemesis is Handsome Jack, but like any bad guy he’s a bit of a nasty character. Generally I’d say the story is a “World Domination” scheme, but getting there is so much fun and very not run of the mill. You can expect Killing, great characters and plenty of car driving action. I don’t want to give any of the story away. Even though I didn’t play the first Borderlands game I had no problem getting stuck into the story of this instalment.

Seriously, if at this point you think I have anything but a massive addiction and obsession with Borderlands 2, then you’ve not been paying attention. The game is fun, has a great sense of humour. It looks fabulous with a very well done cell-shaded art style. The gameplay is easy even if, like me, you’re a bit shit at FPS games on consoles. The game is very well put together and Gearbox should be very proud of what they’ve done here.

Borderlands-2-screen2RS


Preview Time! – Ni No Kuni : Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

Studio Ghibli has stepped back into the game developing scene (the last time being back in 2003 with Garakuda Studios to make Magic Pengel). This time around they’re working with Level5 studios, famous for the Professor Layton series, to create Ni No Kuni : Wrath of the White Witch, a J-RPG exclusive to the Playstation3  and released in the UK later this month.

The game is set in the magical world of Ni No Kuni and revolves around thirteen year old Oliver who, along with a fairy called Drippy, travel across the enchanting world in order to save Oliver’s mother. Along the way  Oliver will meet new team members; all with their own set of special skills.

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The demo was released on the PSN back in December, containing two sections that give players a glimpse into the games wonderful gameplay.

There’s ‘The Deep Dark wood – An errand for old father Oak’ which shows of the over-world  with its eagle-eyed view of the map , beautiful wide open landscapes and monster sprites roaming across the land. The over-world seems reminiscent of Dragon Quest 8, (which is no surprise as both games are developed by Level5 Studios). The part of the demo also shows you how players will interact with NPCs and how the locket mechanic works and how spells work outside of battle.

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Next there’s ‘ The mountain of Fire – Eruption interruption!’ which takes place later in the game. This part  is a time trial in which you have to navigate  Oliver  up to the top of an active volcano in under 3 minutes whilst manoeuvring along the tiny pathways on the volcanoes side and dodging sudden bursts of lava from the wall.This part also introduces the villain for,  Shadar ; an evil wizard with a deadly power that can corrupt a person’s heart.

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Both parts contain a boss battles that make use of an interesting battle system that fuses real-time and turn based components.You can battle as Oliver, or any of the familiars that he acquires through out the game; other members of your party will act off their own initiative using  their own familiars, or you can  either give them an order to act in a certain way, or control them directly, leaving control of Oliver up to the AI.

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Before this preview ends I do have a few gripes about the demo, both are minor complaints though. I found the English voice acting to be rather annoying, but not completely terrible. Plus there’s always the option to use the Japanese voices with English subtitles which is a nice addition. Unfortunately that’s the other problem I came across; Drippy with the English voice acting has rather thick accent and they try to recreate this with the written dialogue.  It can be annoying to read; especially if you have the Japanese voice acting on.

Untitled-3

In the end I found the Ni No Kuni demo to be fantastic, an amazing glimpse into what I hope will be a wonderful game. I have high hopes for the full version, which will be in stores on the 1st Febuary.

~HeadphoneGirlZ


One Simply Does Not…

lego-lord-of-the-rings

…Walk into a Lego game.

Oh, alright – yes, one does. After all, Lego has something of a reputation now for picking up licences and turning them into cool (if increasingly expensive) toys and highly enjoyable computer games. And to be honest, there’s not a lot new here that we haven’t already seen before.

There is, however, something we’ve not heard before: actual film dialogue spoken by the mini-figs during cut scenes. I must admit, I was incredibly sceptical that this was going to add anything to the gaming experience, and was quite frankly concerned it would lead to a degree of programming laziness if the designers no longer had to rely on visual gags and some clever lateral thinking to get the point across.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried: there are still some warped moments of silent comedy joy (Boromir’s death scene being one of the highlights, along with Peter Jackson’s cameo appearance), and the overlaid dialogue is kept to a minimum. They’ve also done remarkably well in getting people who can grunt and argh in convincing impersonations of the original movie cast.

There are, as ever, two methods of play: story and free, along with an incredible open world that you can smash to buggery. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and there’s plenty to break in your quest for cash and glory (trust me, there’s something deeply satisfying about wrecking Tom Bombadil’s domicile and beating the bejeebers out of Rivendell). Fortunately, everything’s quite close together, so you won’t have to walk too far to satisfy your thirst for wanton destruction.

There’s also a rather fascinating split-screen technique in two-player mode that enables you to handle the action when things begin to fall apart. And I don’t mean split-screen in the way it’s worked in previous games (although that’s still there, too): no, in this version, the story literally splits, with Player One on the left hand side controlling a character running through a completely different (though often parallel) storyline to Player Two’s on the right hand side. The only downside to this is that you inevitably end up missing part of the plot because you have too much to concentrate on on your side of the screen, but you can always swap over during freeplay and see what you were missing.

Lego has a tried and tested formula which they really haven’t altered for this latest release; after all, they dealt with the worst glitch in the Star Wars games fairly early on (the one where one player could drag the other player off the screen to their death if you got too far apart). Sadly, this means that the hit-and-miss jumping issues still remain, and until you buy the Fall Rescue red brick, you’re at the mercy of dodgy camera angles and falling off things because you weren’t pixel perfect in your aim. And it’s probably best if you’re really nice and calm before going through the Dead Marshes in the open world, because there are some truly evil bits of jumping that will have you cursing lily pads for the rest of your days, otherwise.

As well as completing the story, quite a major part of the game is questing for mithril bricks and blacksmith’s plans, from which the baldy dwarf in Bree will make you allsorts of insane weapons and toys, including a carrot bow, a squeak sword and a disco light phial that makes anyone near you dance to what is a truly terrifying theme tune dialogue rap mash-up. Many of these items are required to get access to the red bricks which give you extra powers, all the way from the very useful (Fall Rescue and Invincibility) to the downright silly (8-bit music and animals pooing studs when you ride them).

All in all, this is another fun game from Lego and Traveller’s Tales. It’s so much fun, in fact, that for the first time ever we kept on coming back to it until we’d won all of the in-game and X-box achievements (including the almost obligatory Boromir meme one). There is DLC available: 2 character packs (one includes a miniature Balrog, which I really hope is as cute as mini-Sauron) and a weapons and magic pack, with possibly another character pack on the way. I’m not sure I entirely approve of Lego DLC, but I suppose you can’t blame them for trying to rake as much cash as possible from our tiny, battered hands…


Just Dance 4

Considering that I’m such a lazy gamer, I’ve been infected with the sudden need to dance, and party, and just be lively. After meeting the Ubisoft Reflections guys in Newcastle, I got a shot at Just Dance 3 for Xbox 360 and it was a barrel of laughs! Still unsure of whether I should venture out and grab Just Dance 4, I took a trip to the Metro-centre where the same guys were helping GAME celebrate it’s release. I had a blast there too, and quickly decided to rush out and buy the latest instalment of Just Dance.

Song List

Like any music game, the songs available are important to the player. Previous Just Dance games failed to disappoint with songs such as Funky Town, Barbra Streisand and Party Rock Anthem. The new game also has a great range of songs, making playing JD a great addition to any party. I’ll name a few I can think of:

Las Ketchup – Asjere (The Ketchup Song)

One Direction – What Makes You Beautiful

Flo Rida – Good Feeling

Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger

Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give you up

So there’s a few of the songs available and it keeps to the tone that was set by the previous titles. There are a few songs that I wish weren’t there, but that’s all down to personal preference. I don’t quite understand Skrillex for example, but I’ll still give it a go.

Some songs are better with more people

Dance Move Precision

Like all dance games, they ask you to complete a few moves and they grade you with an overall star rating and a mini grade for how you pull off each move. Whereas Dance Central make their grading of moves a little more visible (around the dancers feet and glowing limbs if you do it wrong) JD places it above your character and next to your dance-card.

You do get better scores for better precision, naturally. However, when the game has you twirling, ducking, weaving, and more it’s very hard to see what you’re meant to be doing, and you start to ignore your grades.

Just Sweat Mode

Just Sweat is the JD equivalent of a dance workout. There are multiple classes in which to choose from, sorted by the style of music they use, and add in a few extra short routines specifically for the workout such as stretching. There are a few workout length choices too, ranging from 10 mins to 45 mins, and I’m sure I saw a 1 hr workout in there somewhere. Nevertheless, I tried them all out in a bid to get fit for Halloween…

They are pretty good I must say. I started at 10 mins but it didn’t seem like long enough for me. I was only just working up this sweat that the mode had so promised me, but was soon to regret choosing a 45 minute cheerleader workout. My shoulders are still sore now, probably has more to do with the fact I’m rather unfit. The routine was great, it lets you know when they are cool down sections and intense sections, and tells you the calories you’ve burned at the end. My only issue with the calorie count is that, unlike DC where they ask you for weight, this game does not, so it makes me wonder how it’s calculating this…?

Downsides

I can’t really think of the downsides of this game, but if I had to share what I thought was bad…

– I couldn’t play this on the Wii because every time I do, I seems to whack myself with the Wii-mote. It’s hardly a complaint but when you do hit yourself it really hurts.

– Playing certain songs by yourself allows you to realise how lonely you are. Barry White’s song is a 4 player dance group and you can look really silly doing it alone. The same with Asjere, Time of my Life and Time Warp. Forever Alone 😛

– Justin Bieber (but that’s down to preference)

– With bigger dance groups you need more space otherwise it becomes difficult. The Wii doesn’t have so much of a problem, but the Kinect needs to see everyone and they all need to be in the right place otherwise it goes a bit nuts.

– Not enough DLC songs but I suppose the developers need a little more time to add them.

– There’s also the problems that accompany most motion gaming, such as calibration of the sensor, which can become a little irritating but it’s not a major issue.

Quite a fun game

In conclusion I’d say that Just Dance 4 is a great party game and is a lot more fun when with friends, as you can have a laugh at each other whilst doing the silly routines they have planned out for you. It’s still good as a 1-player game but it feels a little more like a chore after a few songs. Plus, after a while a few of the songs you’ve never heard before start to grow on you. Just need some more songs to dance to and I’ll be happy.


The Sun Rises – Okami HD (PS3)

Okami HD is the remastered version of the PlayStation 2 title made by Clover studios and published by Capcom which was released in the UK back in 2006.

Set in the ancient land of Nippon (Japan); you play as Amaterasu, the reincarnated goddess of the sun who has been sent back to earth. Together with your little sidekick, a woodland sprite named Issun, you travel across the country in order to destroy the malevolent forces that are wreaking havoc on the land and its inhabitants. Over the course of the game you discover  new locations, take on ferocious creatures and collect new powers for Amaterasu’s ‘Celestial Brush’, making  better equipped to fight off the demons.

So what has been added to the PS3 HD version?

Well first up is obviously the graphics; the stunning sumi-e style art is back and now in glorious 1080p. Every detail is  a lot clearer than both the PS2 or Wii versions with cut-scenes and gameplay continuing to be pretty much indistinguishable from each other.

The music is elegant and fits perfectly with any setting, whether it’s a wide open field or the lair of a ferocious beast.

The combat is an excellent combination of melee action and the Celestial Brush, making Amaterasu a force to be reckoned with. The brush can be used outside of battles as well. You can use it to with help solving puzzles or just so you can change it from night to day; the Celestial Brush is a handy tool. There’s also a levelling system for the brush. Doing good deeds or by defeating bad guys will give you ‘Praise’. The ‘Praise’ can then be spend on enhancing your brush or gaining another life orb.

As it’s an HD remake on the PlayStation 3 the game wouldn’t have been complete without a trophy system. While some are challenging to get, most are just arbitrary achievements that you get for just playing the game normally, which to me seems pointless.

Speaking of pointless, Okami HD is compatible with the Playstation Move. Now, I don’t own the Move controllers, but I did try playing the Wii version of Okami when came out in 2008. If the Move controller is anything like the Wii version of Okami then it may be better to steer clear.

One last thing , I’m surprised that Capcom or Clover didn’t look into adding a remote play functionality for the Playstation Vita; considering the dual touch screens it seems like a fairly good idea; but oh well.

Overall Okami HD is brilliant remaster of a severely underrated PS2 game; Everything  fits perfectly together to deliver a wonderful game that leaves me feeling nostalgic. With an interesting plot , breathtaking graphics and a wide array of diverse characters, this game will keep you entertained for a long time to come.

~HeadphoneGirlZ


Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Friday Sept 14th was a special day for me. There was a birthday in the family, it was Friday, and my 2 year wait for a new Tekken game was finally over! Sure, Street Fighter x Tekken was also a “Tekken” game, I found it had more Street Fighter influence, so getting my hands on Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was a great feeling!

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is finally here!

I got an early feel for the game whilst competing in a tournament to celebrate the game’s release. My local GAME store held a Time Trial tournament, clocking how fast I could finish one fight with 2 rounds. I managed to clock a time of 51s and came 4th overall, losing out to a great 36s attempt. After hearing I qualified for an elimination heat, I couldn’t get home quick enough with my game to get some much needed practice with the game.

Familiar Faces

I was greeted by some familiar faces when I started up Tekken for the first time in a few months. I was glad to see some old veterans such as Nina Williams, my favourite Irish assassin, Kazyua Mishima, my not so favourite Japanese murder machine, and the almighty Yoshimitsu! I was also happy to see my good friend Steve Fox was still there, meaning I was set for my playthrough of Arcade mode. There a few new faces, but by new, I mean I hadn’t seen them since Tekken 2/3 where they made an appearance but disappeared after that, like Ogre and more notably Jun Kazama and Kunimitsu. There is one new character, Jaycee. She’s a mysterious masked wrestler, or so they say but I think I’ve worked out who she actually is… *cough* Julia Chang *cough*

Gameplay 

My first match on TTT2

I’m not very good at formulating combos so I’m not going to pretend, but I get pretty close with Steve, so I picked Steve and choose Lili as my partner and set out to try out the gameplay, mainly the Arcade mode. Gameplay is like any other Tekken game, only they elaborated a fun element of Tekken 6, and made it easier to use your equipped items as weapons. I’ve had great fun picking up the handgun and shooting away at Kazuya or Devil Jin in the hopes of hitting them. I can’t wait to try out the pineapple I’ve just unlocked! I’ve even come across a cat as a weapon? Apparently it’s meow hurts but I’m not sure how much… I won’t let it hit me!

Whilst using items has become easier, the ghosts have not. They still have their own rank, and you can still promote your characters. In fact, you can finally get past 2nd Dan offline (Tekken 6 only let you advance your rank further by playing online) so you can now attain the coveted Tekken Lord rank, not that I’m getting there anytime soon. Ghosts past 5th Dan are rather difficult to defeat, unless you’re very good, whereas I’m just lucky. This is probably why I won’t play online. Last thing I need is a Pro player in Japan kicking my ass every minute.

Narrow escape against a bot! Not ready for online yet….

I’ve only figured out 2 Tag moves so far; Tag Crashes that are helpful if your on the ground and need a very quick tag, and Tag Throws which are just fun to do. I know there are more Tag Moves that can be done, but I haven’t figured them out yet. Fight Lab has helped out a little but I’m still not confident using the other tag moves on offer.

Return of the Unknown

She’s back!

Of course one of the biggest things for me was the return of the boss from the first Tekken Tag game. She’s been revamped, she lost the silly floaty wolf thing similar to that of Z.W.E.I from Soulcalibur V, and she now utilises her environment instead, which looks so much better. This mysterious character is of course Unknown, and yes that is her name.

I got confused when they showed Jun Kazama as the final stage, rather than Unknown, but they cleverly crafted a cutscene to go between rounds, provided you stick to the conventional 2 rounds set as default. Upon defeating Jun once, she transforms into Unknown and somehow turns from rather skilled martial artist into someone almost completely different and can destroy you in 2 simple moves, one of which includes a hand rising from the floor and flattening you. That wipes the majority of your health bar away, so you’re screwed if you’ve already taken a beating from her.

Flaws?

No matter how much I may seem to like a game, it always has flaws, whether it be issues with the story, graphics, etc. Tekken Tag 2 has a few that have really stuck out. First off is loading issues during gameplay. I understand that when playing online that some lag can occur, depending on internet connectivity, but when I’m in offline mode, sometimes my game has an effect similar to lag and it always results in me either losing or getting close to. I’ve seen it happen a few times which is a little annoying, especially when entering a combo, the game “freezes” temporarily then anything I press after that didn’t count, therefore ending my combo. Saddens me a little, but I’m working past that on the hopes that it’s just the old console giving up and not an issue with the game.

I wasn’t really a fan of online play either. I haven’t played much of it, but I found it rather irritating and frustrating, but that might be because I’m rubbish at online unless it’s Guitar Hero, then I have a fighting chance. But even when watching my brother who is probably always going to be 10x better than me play online, even he found it irritating and he was on a 5 win streak! Maybe it’s because I will always prefer standing/sitting next to the person I’m fighting against so I have a little prejudice, or maybe it’s because no-one told me that you could have 2 controllers and have 2 people play! Would have been so much easier. Personal issues aside, the online is smooth, no huge connectivity problems, and the “Team” option (similar to Clans on Call of Duty) is a pretty cool feature too.

After 3 online matches…


Last but not least, this new feature in the game added another element of story, but was really complex and a little vague. Fight Lab is a tutorial, there to teach you how to fight. I was hoping it mostly teach you about Tag functions, but one stage 5 shows you that. Fair enough, the other stages teach new players how to play, but even those stages were a little complex and took me a little while to figure out, and I’ve been playing Tekken for over 10 years! *Shame I’m not getting any better at it*. By the time I reached the tag functions I was pretty much at the end of my tether, frustrated with all the aerial combos that wouldn’t register. Eventually I reached the end, only just otherwise I’d still be sitting trying to complete it.

The combos didn’t register correctly as I was trying to complete Tag Throws, Combot’s move-set wasn’t ideal and it took almost 20 minutes to realise the colours of the suits of people I was fighting signified which move I had to use. For a tutorial, it seemed a little vague and unhelpful, however I do now know how to use tag combos so I suppose it did what it was supposed to do… eventually.

Overall…

I love this game. Plot aside, its a great game. I can’t compare to Street Fighter, due to lack of experience playing it. Some people are either into one or the other, and in my case this is true. Tekken was the first game I ever played, back when I was only 4 years of age. I’ve watched Tekken grow into what this is now. It’s challenging in all the right places, and pretty easy to pick a favourite character or two. I wouldn’t say it was the perfect game, as like most fighters it becomes monotonous, and eventually boring.

Whilst the game is still pretty new and shiny, I’ll be playing it, but who knows how long that will last. Possibly until Assassin’s Creed 3 is in my hands this October…


Heart of Darkness – Spec Ops: The Line (PS3 / 360 / PC)

Normally, I steer clear of shooters. I’ve never been that great at them and I find the storylines to be more about making the military seem like an amazing occupation, rather than showing people the horrors of war and the devastation it can cause. So, when I started hearing reviews of Spec Ops : The Line and its different approach to the modern military shooter, I decided “what the hell” and picked up a copy myself.

Made by Yager Development and Published by 2K Games; Spec ops : The Line is set in Dubai 6 months after a cataclysmic sandstorm has destroyed the city. You play as Martin Walker, the  Captain  of the Delta Squad, which is comprised of Walker and his two partners Lieutenant Alphanso Adams and Sergeant John Lugo. Their squad is sent out to Dubai on reconnaissance in order to confirm the status of Colonel John Konrad, commander of the 33rd Battalion of the US Army, and any survivors, then radio for extraction. But as they make their way through the ruins of the city they discover that the 33rd Battalion has gone rogue and is committing increasingly harsh and brutal crimes against the civilian population with the stated intent of maintaining order.

The gameplay is very similar to most modern shooters, get to cover and shoot. Your squadmates each have their own unique skill; Lugo will snipe any  enemy you point at, whereas Adams will throw grenades, which can be helpful sometimes, but most of the time it’s easier to shoot them yourself as the AI has got fairly bad aim. There’s also a sand mechanic which, whilst interesting, is rarely needed. Some enemies will be taking cover near or under windows, shoot the glass and sand will fall on top of them and clearing the path for you. You can only carry one gun at a time, picking up new ones from enemy soldiers. Also, ammo is scarce, leaving the player to make every bullet count. The moral choice system is very clever, giving players the option to deviate from the standard good vs bad dialogue options and make their own choice. The aesthetics are well done as well. Despite being set in a war zone, some of the scenery is stunning and paired with the use of both an original score and licensed music sets the tone perfectly.



There’s also a multiplayer mode made by Darkside Game Studios. It is set before Walker and his squad were sent to Dubai during the initial war between ” The Exiles” and “The Damned” 33rd infantry . There are several different maps and competitive game types, as well as community leaderboard’s and challenges. There is also a class system  with four standard classes and a class that’s specific to the faction you pick : Officer , Sniper , Gunner, Medic  and Scavenger for the Damned or Breacher for the Exiles.




Overall  I found that Spec Ops : The Line to be a very interesting game. Unlike a lot of shooters that make you feel like a hero for gunning down wave after wave of enemies, the game will make you think about your actions and what you could’ve done to avoid killing that enemy or how you handled that situation. In the end  Spec ops was a pleasant surprise, full of interesting plot twists and a storyline that portrays Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and  dissociative disorders very well. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys their shooters, but would like to see them evolve beyond the stagnant state they’re currently stuck  in.


Guild Wars 2

What follows is a little background on my MMO playing experiences, you can skip direct to the Guild Wars 2 review below if you want 😀

Early in 2005 I remember seeing a game being covered a lot in the gaming magazine press of the time, how it was going to be a multiplayer game of unprecedented scale, giving rebirth to a term that had been used before, but by comparison most assuredly inappropriately until this game’s release; MMORPG.  Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  The game – ofcourse – was World of Warcraft.  Now, the game itself and coverage thereof had not been enough to twitch the interest-o-meter for me by much, as whilst I like the fantasy genre, I was not au-fait with the Warcraft universe, so I felt no immediate compulsion to investigate further.  However, a friend had already been playing it for quite a while, and offered a 10-day free trial.. so I gave it a go.

This first foray into the (the fortunately now abbreviated) MMO genre proved to be of mixed value.  Certainly at the time WoW was gorgeous to behold.. and so startlingly BIG. The players at this time were mostly the typically serious RPG types, which made for a very atmospheric experience, but.. it really wasn’t grabbing me that much.

WoW nostalgia

I felt I needed to join a guild, or better yet my have my gaming friends get on board too, and a couple of them did so (like some sort of tri-pledge.. we shall three buy this game *cackle*) and lo, we began playing proper.   Well, suffice to say that the fun really began then, as the three of us played our way through the game solidly for 3-4 months – or I did anyway, my compatriots would continue to play on and off for many years beyond – and it was great.  Working together, we ploughed our way through the first 30 levels or so, enjoying the exploration, discovery, and unlocking of various treats.  However,  my available time to play the game was considerably less than my friends, and I soon fell behind their inexorable levelling-up, though even this didn’t diminish my enjoyment;  but my interest did begin to wane, and the £6 per month subscription fee was feeling unjustified and I eventually retired from play.  I would return to WoW twice more between then and now, the most recent attempt proved to be quite depressing as the game had changed quite drastically due to spammers, and seemingly illiterate, disinterested brats flocking to its now free-to-play early levels.

Over the course of the intervening years I would try to recapture that exciting feeling of collaborative exploration and story with several would-be WoW usurpers.  Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and more than a few Korean sourced free-to-play games. Early on in the investigations, Guild Wars emerged.  It was at the time unique since it operated on a subscription-fee free system.  You bought the game, you played the game.  Sounded like a no-brainer, and I even got the chance to borrow a friend’s copy of the game and try it.  It certainly looked lovely, with a less cartoony look than WoW graphically, but a less fluid feeling of movement.  Being unable to leave a path because of obstructive grass(!) was a bit of an immersion breaker, so after only a bit of levelling.. I abandoned it.

Much later the first real WoW challenger came along as far as I was concerned; Age of Conan.  I really enjoyed my time spent playing it, it looked SOOO nice, and that makes all the difference in terms of wanting to explore a fantasy landscape.  However there were some problems, one of the game’s making, the other more of my own.  First, the game relied heavily on instancing (essentially a zoning-off of various sections of the map to minimize both server and end-user hardware taxing) with multiple instances per zone, which could have the very odd effect of you and your friends occupying the same zone at the same spot… but not seeing each other because you were in different instances.  The other problem was simply that my WoW-cronies weren’t really enamoured with the game, so I didn’t have the camaraderie that I had enjoyed previously, but also somewhat crucially I was no longer a bachelorette, no longer gleefully playing games until 4am – work be damned! – no longer having nor desiring the time to become involved with an MMO so much again, and so…

I abandoned it.

So.  That monstrous pre-amble brings me to Guild Wars 2.

“Aren’t you a little short for a… er.. Necromancer?”

I was fairly put off MMO’s by now (a dalliance with a beta of “The Secret World” recently seemed to cement this opinion), but I was keeping a hopeful optimistic eye on GW2’s development.  It looked beautiful, it was going to retain the no-subscription-fee model – though that is less noteworthy in this day and age of F2P – and it was making a real pitch at offering something familiar, yet different.

I had been drumming up interest with two of my friends – one was the former WoW alumni, the other a WoW-despiser, but fan of Dungeons & Dragons Online, and toe-dipper of Star Trek:Online.. and lo, once again I had a triumvirate of new-game pioneers.  Launch Day MMO play is… an Interesting Time.  You either can’t get on in the first place, or you get on and suffer lag, bugs, and all sorts of quirks, not to mention the sheer bedlam of having a massive number of new players all starting in the various start zones all at the same time!

The map of Tyria – World of Guild Wars – WoGW, if you will…

At the time of writing this tome, it has been 11 days since we installed the game.  I will describe that period in succinct style, using the world-famous “Facial Expression Mood Modifier Encapsulation System – FEMMES, a homage to the classic 8-bit game review magazine Zzap! 64)

Days 1-3: Installation, updating, and initial impressions:

Longest install ever. 2 disks, followed by a 2.2gb update = “Bored, thinking about stuff I could be doing, should go off to make coffee” face.

Slightly frowny face: Limited body-shape customization options for player avatars.

More frowny face: A Couple of the default female player character outfits:

FEMALE FANTASY ARMOUR CLICHE

Ha! My mighty… armour… will save me from your deadly attacks…?

Positive face at standard intuitive MMO (read: WoW) interface and controls.

Slightly disappointed sadface at graphics on highest settings.

Nonplussed, concentrating face at interchangeable weapon/powers interface and use.

So many things… *icons spin to the music of “Vertigo”*

Days 4-7: Settling in.

Zoned-out, nobody home face regarding crafting/skills (by contrast my former DDO chum loves it)

Pondering hopeful face: Create another character of different race and class.

Confused face caused by hearing what I know to be Jennifer “Commander Shepard” Hale’s voice, but not recognizing it in the slightest.  That must be ACTING! 😀

Bored-face.  Not enough collaboration or teaming with friends… feels like the most Minimally Multiplayer Online Game ever. Lots of people doing things, often the same things as you, but separately.

Days 8-11: Do I really like the game, or is it just not working for me?

New character, new class: Raised-hopeful-eyebrow face, this seems to be better!

Smiley face: New class is much more my thing,  and my friends and I are working together again, much more cohesively.

My Bro’s and I, looking Awesome.

RAWR-face! This is great!

There you go.  11 days in, and I’m really enjoying it, and for a multitude of reasons:

1: So far I’ve discovered I only like one (of eight possible) player classes, the other two I tried felt tedious in the extreme to me – when you find the shoe that fits.. its all good.

2: Once you understand the game’s mechanics – which are similar enough yet different to WoW’s to leave you slightly on an off-footing – you can get together with your friends to explore and progress through the game and its landscape very enjoyably.

3: Friends not around? Progress the character class specific single-player storyline which also gains you experience and levels you up, there seems to be less obvious “grinding” in GW2 – its still there, but not as blatant or boring as “kill 20 rats/goblins/thingmabobs” – there are usually multiple ways to complete a given quest.

4: No subscription-fee means no “must get my money’s worth” requirement to play… your friends may level ahead of you (mine are already 10-20 levels ahead of me) but this is less of an annoyance because of the game’s “level playing field” system, which reduces a high player level to the maximum for the area they’re in at the time, though admittedly this is at the expense of the fun-factor of returning to a low-level area when you are a high-level swaggering Goddess, gleefully swatting formerly troublesome wretches that get in your way.  Let them eat cake… and noobs.

5: Combat!  Its fun!  Its a good mix of WoW’s style of gained powers/skills assigned to hotkeys (usually the number keys and clickable on-screen icons) but also featuring Age of Conan style evasive maneuvering.  If you don’t move, you’ll soon be clobbered by higher-level beasties.

Have at you, foul Murloc-impersonator!

6: Quests! They’re.. a bit different.  By which I mean how they’re implemented.  WoW is famous for its bright yellow “!” over quest givers.  GW2 operates something similar yet different.  First, they’re heart icons.  Empty outlines for incomplete quests, solid for complete.  What makes them different is the fact that you don’t have to approach and “talk” to the quest givers in order to participate…  merely being in the zone where the quest is relevant is enough to have you participate.  Want to help that other player fighting the mob?  Do so.  Your contribution helps them without compromising how much XP they gain, as well as gaining you the XP and adding to the fulfilment of the given quest in the zone you happen to be standing, regardless of whether or not you are interested in participating!  Initially I found this to be a little odd, and distancing from the “story” – but it actually works really well.

Better yet are the dynamic events that occur randomly but regularly throughout the different regions.  For example:

You’re ambling around a locale when an “event nearby” notification appears.  It could be that bands of marauding centaurs are assaulting an outpost nearby.  You can involve yourself to help fight them off, gaining generous XP subject to how much you actually contribute to the battle.  Merely being in the place where the event is happening if it’s completed will still gain you XP nonetheless!  Where it gets clever is if players fail to fight off the marauders, and the outpost then becomes *their* outpost!

Me. Ambling. Yesterday.

Things I still don’t like:

1: Instancing. Yes, the game has instanced zones.  Not Age of Conan style, but not quite WoW style either.  Its still a bit of an immersion breaker to have to “portal” between areas beside each other on the map.  Something WoW did that was just so fabulous was the ability to pick a direction to walk in, and just walk.  Loading was seamless aside from specific crossing areas (e.g. by boat) – alas, not so in GW2, but the areas are still pretty large, and with multiple exits/entrances.

2: Graphics. I admit to being a little disappointed with GW2’s looks.  We’ve been seeing lovely videos promising beautiful, atmospheric locales and the like over the last few years, but the actual in-game graphics are a mix of lush, pretty design… on slightly angular polygonal landscapes, with not a huge amount of Bells or Whistles.  Don’t get me wrong – graphics do not a great game make – but they certainly help build an atmosphere, and I felt that the final product was not quite what the marketing was promising. Shocker, I know!  The design ethic, however, is beautiful.  To be fair, I suspect that most attention is spent on key locales, rather than outback wildernesses.

Beautiful artwork on the instance loading screens

3: Maybe its my getting old, or maybe I’m too accustomed to simplistic control systems, but I found GW2’s interchangeable abilities, weapons, and items quite complex and mind-boggling at first.  I *am* getting the hang of it, and enjoy the variety.  It’s also nice that you don’t *have* to meddle in the ways of crafting/skills/etc if you don’t want to, for I am unsubtle and quick to boredom…

4: There are less pleasing MMO staples in this game; emotes are a lot of fun (e.g.  /laugh /cry ) etc even if you’re not doing the whole serious Role-playing thing.  Guild Wars seems to have less than other MMOs I’ve played…

5: Speaking of Role-playing: GW2 seems determined to break atmospheric  immersion with lots of bizarre quirks.  The Human emote /dance results in a very cheesy pseudo-line dancing affair (though admittedly, I’m somewhat a hypocrite, as I *loved* Guild Wars original moves!)  The Trading post (GW2’s both real and virtual money ebay emporium) has amidst its items… Aviator sunglasses?  Baseball caps?

6: I miss Murlocs 😦

“grolgrlgrlgrglrglr” – A Murloc, earlier.

As for The Trading Post – the jury is still out on it.  Something that allows for game items to be bought and sold for game Gold or real £$money has much potential for abuse and game-breaking.  Time will tell… but game-servers cost money, and GW2 is not using the traditional F2P game model, and is therefore likely looking to bolster perpetual revenue however possible.

Verdict:

Guild Wars 2 is an enjoyable game, and a fun MMO, that for me at least has brought back almost all the positive vibe I enjoyed in the heyday of my WoW play, largely through allowing me to enjoy the game with my friends *and* with a clear conscience of no monthly cost to absorb.

Its a game that can be played as solo or grouped with friends as you like, though I suspect you are better off going into the game with known comrades, as in-game interactions with other players seem to be a little limited at present.  Mostly people complaining of lag, but then hasn’t every online game since the dawn of The Internet had those individuals whose purpose in life seem to be to inform us of this?

Ok, I may have been a bit harsh on the graphics…

My gripes about the graphics should be offset by the fact that a less demanding game means less need for super-powerful PC to play it on, which was always WoW’s greatest strength – it was playable on some of the lowliest laptops, assisting WoW to become one of the biggest selling games for the longest time.

It is likely that GW2’s publishers hope to achieve something similar, and I wish them every success, as it appears to me that – finally – there is a new MMO Queen on the throne, long may she reign.


The Sims Go Supernatural

I’ll apologise for not writing so much. There are plenty of reasons why I couldn’t, such as sorting out university stuff. But rather than waste time explaining everything, I’m going to get right to it and talk about the recent expansion to The Sims 3.

Finally, EA and Maxis have re-introduced the supernatural beings into the game. It’s only taken them about 7 expansion packs to do it, but I suppose good things come to those who wait… or perhaps I’m being unfair as vampires did appear in the second expansion Late Night? Either way, I’m glad to finally have a few more options in terms of supernatural beings.

New Character Creation

Customise your fairy’s wings to match your outfit

By this, I mean of course the ability to create the supernatural Sims. One thing didn’t strike me until I was reading up about the next expansion, Seasons. Where are the aliens? Much to my dismay aliens won’t make an appearance until the next expansion in November. I thought Aliens were Supernatural too*. But I likely didn’t notice this as my favourite Supernatural was there to occupy me; Werewolves! Naturally I messed about with most of the creation tools, and found the werewolves and fairies creation to be the most fun, as you can alter the appearance of the fairy’s wings, and could customise your sim’s werewolf form. Genies didn’t offer much, only the preset blue skin and themed outfits, vampires were similar with their preset skin-tone and bite-mark. I haven’t created a witch through CAS yet, or a Ghost, but I’m under the impression that creating them will be similar to Genies, in that there won’t be much to play around with that is completely unique to them.

Proper Sims do everything in formal wear

However, there’s the addition of new traits and lifetime wishes which is evident with most main expansion packs, by that I mean anything that doesn’t have “Stuff” in it’s name, and as expected they are completely fitting with a few less-obvious but brilliant traits such as Night-Owl and Proper. Each new character gets their own unique lifetime Happiness perks too, so Fairies can become King/Queen of the Fae, but Werewolves can become the Alpha Wolf instead. This is where Witches begin to redeem themselves as they have a perk that allows them to cast magic without a wand.

Supernatural Gameplay

The gameplay has received a couple of new features and a few that enhance current elements, like the collection journal. Finally the game keeps track of everything I’ve collected! The lunar cycle is great but I have a tendency to forget about it and throw parties on a full moon, resulting in werewolf chaos! But I enjoy that the fairies are also affected by the moon too, and it’s not just there for werewolves.

Fortune Tellers are fun within the game too, with the option to pursue that career with the intent of being fake and scamming people, or if you want to be a legitimate fortune teller. I also love how if you get your fortune told, the amount they tell you is depending on how many “donations” you give them throughout the session. Then there’s the ridiculous fortune at the end, no matter how much you give, as that’s the way TS3 does it!

Zombies are fun. Yes, you can’t create them per-say. You can’t through CAS but you can by developing a Zombification potion and either drinking it or throwing it on a Sim. All of their interactions are to do with brains, they have the zombie walk, and they are good sports when playing Plants vs Zombies with my on my front lawn (Limitied Edition extra). The annoying part is when they torment your horses, attack you on your doorstep, essentially leaving you housebound for the night. Goodbye fun, Hello early night!

You can transform into werewolves at any time you want which is cool! It may not have been a full moon but when my dog died, my Sim was so upset I sent him on a werewolf hunt. It just means that you have no choice on a full moon, which is fair enough. I quite enjoy the whole concept. Fairies also benefit from a full moon, making it easier for them to cast fairy magic. They do however suffer from a new moon, so are a bit like werewolves in reverse. They also have the ability to enter fairy houses and treat them like a normal house. You know what that means? Fairy House Parties!

Blue Harry Potter demonstrates broom-riding

Infact I even enjoyed playing as a witch. You get a wide selection of wands to use, broomsticks as transportation or just to mess about on and, as mentioned earlier, you can even learn to use magic without a wand! The only downside I found to witches was I found it very hard to learn how to increase the Spellcasting skill which doesn’t appear in the Skill journal unlike most other skills. Even the in-game tutorials didn’t help out much!

The biggest disappointment was possibly the Genies. Everyone knows what Genies are famous for! Jumping out of lamps, granting wishes, Aladdin. Under this image I excitedly created a genie only to be let down by what the Genie could actually do. Cool, he’s blue, and can float about! All he really can do are one of three things; Summon Food (perfect food every time though), clean either the house or a Sim, eliminating the needs for Maids or Showers, and Banish Sim. I haven’t tried out that last one yet, because I do not yet have a Sim I wish to Banish but next time I want a Sim killed I’ll send ’em to the Genie! I then searched for a tutorial only to find there wasn’t one, meaning there wasn’t much else to them. There wasn’t even a flying carpet which would have made up for everything in my eyes!

I can’t comment on Ghosts yet either for I haven’t really created one yet, but I reckon I’ll have great fun possessing stuff and scaring other Sims. It would also be unfair to criticise vampires under this expansion as they were introduced in the Late Night expansion pack, but the cool thing is you can now create them in CAS rather than run around begging vampires to bite you. There’s also the ability to learn skills ridiculously fast but I’m still unsure if that was already in the game or not.

There’s one last little extra they added to the gameplay which I am hoping to exploit a little with an unknowing friend. Showtime, the previous expansions, added the ability to communicate with friends within the game, allowing you to access your Origin/EA account in-game. This also allowed you to access the Store, link/share memories and unlock achievements. It also enabled a function called SimPort, allowing you to send one of your Sims to another friends game as an Acrobat/Magician/Singer and perform in their world, or “go on tour”. In Supernatural they added the ability to send gifts to your friends through the mailbox. You can send potions if you want, or you can send in-game items. I once sent a teddy bear to my friend. Not only do you send your friends something they need, but you also gain Lifetime Happiness points for your Sims! Quick and easy lifetime Happiness, but there is a limit of 5 items a day and some items can only be sent if your friend has registered their game.

Overall I’m enjoying TS3 Supernatural. It has its ups and downs like all games do, and it must be alright if I can sit for 12 hours straight playing it. Hopefully I can grow to like Genies and Ghosts will be as fun as I expect them to be.

*I’ve now realised that Aliens are more Extra-terrestrial than Supernatural, which explains why they weren’t included.


Papo &Yo: Much more than meets the eye

When I was looking at the new additions to the PSN this week I saw Papo & Yo. I must admit I was a little confused and intrigued. Watched the E3 vid for it and decided that it may be a bit surreal, but just the type of game I enjoy. The PSN description marked it as a puzzle platformer and I’d be inclined to agree, although more puzzle than platformer.

So, you are a boy, Quico, in this very unusual looking landscape of favelas and no one else around when you suddenly see another child. Of course you give chase and the game begins. Only the world around you is a bit dream-like and you can influence it in unusual ways by interacting with the chalk drawings on the walls. This is where the thinking begins too. The standard platform game has you going along a set route and just following it through, not here. In here your way will never be completely straight forward and you’ll pretty much always have to do something to create your path. Sometimes it’s easy, other times it takes a bit of thinking, but it’s always interesting. In the beginning it’s rather standard; pick up box and put on trigger. Very quickly though that changes and you’ll soon be moving houses and watching barrels fly through the air. Did I mention that this is a rather surreal game? Cause well, it really is.

Through the course of the game you’ll become acquainted with the other child and the big pink rhino, Monster. Quico’s relationship with Monster is an important one and something definitely worth mentioning, but I don’t want to spoil any of the metaphors for you. Suffice to say that the whole game, especially Quico & Monster, is a very well presented metaphor for the designer’s, Vander Caballero, very difficult childhood. By time you get to the end, I’m sure you’ll understand; I really found it was presented well.

I know I keep saying metaphor, but trust me when I say it has no effect on the gameplay. If anything it has a positive effect on the atmosphere causing a dreamlike, odd, weird world where you can do the unusual.

The controls aren’t complex, which is a positive thing I think. The last thing you want in a weird game is convoluted controls. At its heart it is a puzzle game though, so you really don’t need complex controls. My only problem I had with the controls was towards the end in a section that particularly platform-y. The double jump timing was being a bit pernickety, but once I grokked it I felt a bit stupid for getting frustrated.

Overall, I’d say get this game. It’s not expensive and I got between 3 and 4 hours of play and it certainly has some replay value. If for no other reason, but to see that great environment again. The art is very interesting and unique.  You really feel like you’re in the favelas.


The Late, Mass Effect Trilogy review

*note that I do not review the multiplayer element of ME3, as I’ve barely played it, hopefully someone else can cover it – I did find it mildly enjoyable, however!
*also note that whilst this review is as spoilerfree as is humanely possible, links to videos and the like will not be!  The key reason of this review is to convince the 6 remaining people in the world who havent played any of the series – especially women – to play it!

Now, let me be clear.. up until recently it was not entirely certain where that comma in the title would be placed… because it was only very recently that Mass Effect 3 (and by association the entire trilogy) was truly finished. Also because prior to the “little” addition of the Extended Ending brought about due to fan outcry it could be classed as “late” as in dead.. dead to me and dead to many of its fans.  The addition of the extended ending (in my opinion) saves the series and makes replaying it viable. It is frankly baffling that they thought the original ending was satisfactory in any way.  However, I get ahead of myself, lets talk about the games first, and then after we’ll talk a little about the debacle that was the conclusion to the series.

The *real* Commander Shepard, looking badass.

Mass Effect was launched in 2007 exclusively on the Xbox, though it was later – thankfully – also released on the PC, and the subsequent sequels on PS3, PC, and Xbox.  It has to be said that PS3 players have got a bit of a raw deal with Mass Effect. No first game, 2nd game delayed by a year, third game’s extended cut released nearly 2 weeks after everyone else got it.   The game was a departure from Bioware’s staple of RPG style gaming, aiming as it were to introduce shooter elements, along with squad management and resource/weapon modifications.  It was also a brave new move for the gamestudio, as here was a completely new setting featuring original characters in a wholly new created sci-fi story world.I picked up the first game cheaply in 2009 on the Xbox (not my preferred gaming platform) and after initially grumpily grumping about the controls quickly warmed to it, though I largely ignored the whole weapon upgrading and squad special power management thing.  I was hooked on the whole RPG element of the game, especially due to the option of playing as a female protagonist in a world where the gender of the lead character was completely irrelevant = equality, feminist fans 😀

There is something just so cool about wandering the corridors of a military starship that you are the Executive Officer of and seeing the crew salute you as they encounter you.

BAD REAPER! BAD!

The story was an interesting one; in some ways it reminded me of Halo, in that it almost felt like you were being plunged into an already started storyline, and you have to pad out your knowledge of the world you’re exploring.. well.. by exploring it.   2183: The Human race struggles to find its place in a vast galaxy governed by a stern and suspicious multi-cultural Alien council at the apparent onset of war with an invading ancient force known as “Reapers”.  Characters are well defined, superbly animated with lots of emotive behavior complimented by superb voice acting.  Later on in the game there are some pivotal choices to be made that cause genuine pause when the player is confronted with them.

So… about those head tentacles…?

The repercussions of those decisions are felt not just within the game itself, but ultimately in the sequels too; hence the importance really of playing all three.  It is because of these decisions shaping branching personalized elements of the plot, that so endears the games and their characters to its fanbase – making some events so desperately affecting later on.  This level or attachment to game characters was something very new to me I have to admit.

Is it still a big fall if it’s in zero-gravity?

Mass Effect 1 ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, but most satisfactorily so, in a way that meant that even if it never got a sequel, it had a definite feeling of self-contained closure.

ME1 Gameplay summary:
RPG, lots of shooty, lots of pickingup/buying resource management, lots of squad power management,  some puzzles (mostly doors)

WooHoo! Mass Effect 2 begins and everything’s hunky dory!

The sequel was released in 2010 (which I bought on day one this time!) and introduced a few changes to the game dynamic.  Many of the micromanagement elements of the squad and special power/weapons were simplified; good for me, but perhaps less so for others.

Another feature that was dropped: the “Mako” sections from the first game, essentially an awkwardly controlled vehicle used to explore and travel between areas.  I for one missed this, as I thought it added a larger open exploratory element to the game. Though ME2 had a much more linear plot direction.  The game has an incredibly dramatic start that re-introduces you comfortably to your familiar setting and characters from the first game before violently taking them away from you (and vice versa).

THIS kick-ass girl band’s gigs are worth seeing..

What follows is essentially a “magnificent seven” style building of a new squad/crew that may or may not feature characters from the first game.  One interesting plot device element is the removal of your love interest (if you developed one) from the first game, leaving you to either develop something new with someone new or remain faithful to your original love interest, in the hope of reuniting later.

This second iteration of the series introduces many new characters and elements, now all very well established in the narrative’s universe, with even better performances from the leads. Martin Sheen puts in a fantastic performance as the shadowy puppet master “The Illusive Man”.

The second game also introduces much heavier repercussions to decisions and/or lack of development of resource finding. The latter being quite an unnecessary nuisance I thought, but again, I was never one for the whole resource management/finding/buying stuff… I would go on to quite painfully regret this at the conclusion of my first run of the game!

Some of the characters introduced new in the 2nd game are somewhat two dimensional, others prove to be very interesting. Jack, the fierce biotic jailbird being one and Miranda the seemingly cold, perfected human being another.  Characters met in the first game returning get much better fleshed out, BessyMate Garrus, I’m looking at you 😀

Miranda’s bum was unavailable for comment at the time of this review.

Some new elements introduced this time around prove to be a little annoying, I was often very concerned that Miranda seemed to be talking out of her improbable arse a lot of the time, as in literally,  simply due to the amount of camera-time aforementioned derriere got.

ME2 proves to be quite the successful sequel, with a gripping conclusion that has multiple branches (including one where you – the lead character – die!) albeit giving a portent of what was to come with a sort of colour coded finale.  Another welcome new introduction are the “loyalty” missions that you do or don’t, these determine how close a relationship you develop with your crew members, which may or may not affect the conclusion of the game, and its final chapter.

I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?

One thing I will confess is that I found the shooty element of the 2nd game quite fatiguing… so much so that 2/3rds into the game I took a several month break from playing it, as I was genuinely tired of some of the relentless sections in the lead up to the final “suicide run”.

ME2 Gameplay summary:
Lots of RPG, too much shooty, less weapon/resource pickup, but mining/planet searching element added and tied heavily to ship upgrades, more puzzley bits.

You lookin’ at me, Punk?

…which brings me to 2012 and this finale of the series which introduced a “Story Mode” to a joyous me.  Story mode removes the reliance on shooty bit proficiency in order to progress the story, and features much more story development *during* those sections, as opposed to the previous game’s “talkalot,shootstuff, talkmore,findstuff,shootstuff,talkalot” apparent structure.  What Story mode effectively offers the player is a heavily dialog involved version of events that means you don’t have to be so good at shooter style games in order to get through the game, a real welcome option for players like myself.  The other two options available hopefully fulfil other player’s desire for full-on action with little dialog, or a “normal” mix of the two.

I’m going to need a bigger gun…

Mass Effect 3 starts ominously, darkly, pulling no punches, and featuring a sequence of events before even the title appears that had me having to be consoled by one’s otherhalf, as I was a blubbing mess!  Once the preamble of the story is set in motion, the game falls back into fairly comfortable shoes treading the path defined in the previous game – exploring, team building, plot development.  The linearity of the plot is tightened further than the previous game, but still allows for going off the beaten path.. though this is problematic due to the overall plot-spine being so strong – you feel that sidemission “fetch” quests and the like are stupidly unimportant in the grand scheme of the things, so I felt that there should be a talk option along the lines of “What?! Are you mad? There’s a war on! Find your own damn <object> !” – however, at least this time around they have the conceit that doing these wee tasks contributes a small part towards the greater war effort by adding to your “Effective Military Strength” or “War Assets”

This… cant be good…

It is ME3’s action setpieces where some truly awesome plot development occurs and how these events play out is often highly influenced by decisions in the previous games.  There are some parts of this final chapter that present some squeamishly difficult choices to make, and it is a testament to the quality of the writing and story that they are so difficult to make at times.  At one point such a dramatic moment occurred that I could not bear the thought of continuing with that decision/event made canon, that I went back a whole series of saves to try and “correct” it – only to learn that the game was effectively giving me – to throw a Star Trek reference in – a “Kobyashi Maru” – a no-win scenario… how ever I played it, there was going to be some form of terrible repercussion.

You’d be upset too if you couldn’t get your hair colour to stay the same between games!

For me, this is why Mass Effect 3 is the strongest of the trilogy, as by now you are familiar with the characters, the environment and the illusion of your choices creating a unique and personal story to you creates a player/game involvement that I have never before encountered.  I found it very difficult to objectively review this game, as to me it seemed to transcend the definition of “game” into something beyond the kind of emotional investment that a really good movie might engender in its audience.  You might say that the Mass Effect Trilogy as a whole was a synthesis of the medium of cinema and videogames. Ha!

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

ME3 gameplay summary:
Player tailored, but as it pertained to me: Lots RPG, perfect level of shooty, zero *required* resource /squad management, minimal puzzles. 90% plot/character interaction driven.

One of the game series’s other controversial (at least if you happen to be FOX news) features was the Love Interest.  In the first game it was possible to romance one of 3 characters, this was expanded in the 2nd and 3rd game, allowing for faithfulness to the first game’s LI or not.  The first two games featured the option of lesbian relationships which were nice enough, though likely mainly for male titillation, as it would not be until ME3 that gay male relationships would be an option.  I’ve watched how these unfold via youtube (does this count as watching porn?!) and think they are lovely, though the option of recently bereaved shuttle pilot Steve as a potential Male-Shepard conquest annoys me!  I’m amused at some player’s love triangles they have created themselves throughout the course of the games.  The actual lovemaking scenes themselves are (I think) very tastefully done and, certainly in the case of the third game (I can’t speak for ME2 – Monogamous Kate Shepard, see), add to the emotional gravitas of the story.

Star Wars eat your heart out…

It was therefore a tragedy to me (and a large number of ME fans) that the last 10 minutes of the trilogy finale seemed to throw a leftfield turn of direction with a seemingly abrupt nonsensical ending filled with more questions than answers, which was very much the opposite of what was promised by Bioware in the very high profile marketing campaign leading up to the release of the game.

I think even Bioware underestimated how invested in the story their fanbase was and how actually emotionally hurt they were by the game abrupt ending.  This feeling of loss spawned some great things though, with enterprising players dealing with the very real feeling of grief they were experiencing by advancing the story through art and storytelling; there are some absolutely stunning fanmade works out there, I’ll put some links at the end of this article.

Hmmm. Must be injured more than I thought, my arm seems to have shrunk.

Now, there’s no doubt that either through a bizarre overinflated sense of “artistic integrity” Bioware decided to create a very ambiguous set of endings that leave story threads blowing in the wind,or they rushed the game out in the end to meet deadlines.

I for one believe it to be the latter, as there were many other little inconsistent failures in quality assurance in this final chapter at launch.  Throughout the trilogy one of the most important and awesome features is the ability to import your save from the previous game, continuing your “universe” based on your choices previously in the series, as well as your own custom appearance.  The import worked in ME3, but not the appearance part; forcing you to redefine your appearance as best as you could.  This was not fixed until well after a month following the game’s release,  by which time the majority of players had finished the game and were probably suffering PME3TSD.  There were also other glitches that affected gameplay and player story immersion.  Getting stuck on bits of scenery, terrible terrible character animation clipping and an increase of “uncanny valley” factor in NPC performances with some very notable exceptions (love interest characters in particular are so emotive in their face animations it hurts! – though aforementioned bugs caused my love interest to disappear mid-snog at one point!)  If there was one thing that was definitely a mistake on Bioware’s part it was that the last words you essentially see at the end of the game are “PURCHASE DLC”  – it was like after wooing you with 100’s of hours time invested in an involving story… ABRUPT ENDING! Hahahah! Buy more DLC!

On the subject of DLC; ME1 had a few bits and bobs of DLC, nothing particularly earth shattering (so to speak).  ME2 had some very notable packs; most especially “Lair of the Shadowbroker” and “Arrival”, but ME3 caused controversy by having day one, on the disk DLC that arguably should have been core content in the first place.

Who’s the bloke in the middle?

So it seemed that Bioware were so taken off guard by the subsequent huge outcry (most of which was valid, though there were a few that really were hurt and wanted a genuine 100% happy ending) that they relented and announced a forthcoming “Extended Cut” version of the ending would be released for free.  This unprecedented announcement was treated with hope by many of us and disdain by others. I would hazard a guess that the disdain mostly came from those who played the game as shooters first and foremost with little emotional investment in the story.  Around this time talk of the fan-based “Indoctrination Theory” was at its most intense and whilst I admit to being disappointed that in the final analysis it was rendered nullified by the EC, I think that what we got restored my love of the series and made the thought of replaying it genuinely viable. Whereas without the EC it felt as no choice in the entire series ultimately mattered, so why bother to replay?

*no caption due to author bawling*

With the EC DLC in place the 3 original endings that were 95% similar in content have been replaced with a possible 5 key iterations with subtle further variations within each based on player’s choices throughout the entire series, as well as some small other additions to the story in the run up to the finale, including a beautiful if improbably set farewell to your love interest.  Also, very importantly each of the choices becomes an actually viable choice with “lots of speculation” as to its repercussions beyond what is now fully expanded in the new endings – a previous choice that was largely written-off as “BAD” seems to now have captured fan’s attention for its possibilities beyond what the game actually shows.

So, I can now say unreservedly say that the Mass Effect trilogy is to me,  the finest, most involving, emotional gaming experience I have ever had, and that description is a disservice to it.  As I’ve already mentioned I feel it transcends interactive media as we know it, it is more than game, more than a film.  The combination of solid writing, a good sci-fi story, stellar performances, cinematic sound and music design elevates it to a level beyond anything I’ve seen before, as long as you get “into” the story and those characters, which both my partner and I did through the associated audiobooks, and comics.

Oh, the music… ME1 and 2 had some fantastic music, memorable themes, but by the third game the ante had been upped to such an epic level, the involvement of cinematic composer Clint Mansell working with the existing composers raised the bar highest of all.  Even now, listening to the soundtrack as I write this, I feel myself welling up when certain tracks play.  When it comes time to vote for Game of the Year, I might find myself umming and aaahing about ME3 the game, but the music+sound  will wholeheartedly get my vote.  This is the year that a Reaper’s “HwAAAAAAAAAAAM!” may match R2-D2’s warbles for zeitgeist familiarity!  That was something I wrote about in my own blog, in that Mass Effect may have become a new generation’s Star Wars, but I feared it might have been similarly struck down by its original ending as Star Wars was by a director with CGI OCD!

Before the EC DLC, the idea of playing pay DLC set during the story arc leading up to the end was unthinkable “Whats the point?” being a common reaction amongst players, but now it seems like a much more viable option. Rumour of elements from a forthcoming DLC being stealthily delivered as part of the EC DLC only fuels interest.

Across the stars

And thats the important difference, we are now left wanting more, as opposed to sitting in baffled, hurt silence needing more, in terms of an explanation.  Mass Effect was never meant to be a bleak 70’s style sci-fi with an atonal soundtrack and a huge “?” final frame.  Bittersweet, emotional – yes.  Twin Peaks or LOST – no.  Its also worth noting that even with the EC, several of fans’ complaints still won’t have been addressed; and by that I mean collected War Assets – only the key biggest ones feature in the end game, when likely some will want to see them all, but these are minor complaints given what they have fixed.

I now outwardly firmly place myself in the “battleworn, sad, but content” camp now its over.. but secretly I’m a very upset geeky fangirl that I wont be witness to any new adventures of Commander Shepard (I will miss Jennifer Hale’s voice performance in particular), and not be around to raise any little blue children with Dr. Liara T’Soni :*(

Fan-made content of note:

Koobismo – maker of the fantastic alternative timeline ending comic: Marauder Shields – his Audiobook version is a thing of awesomeness.

Neehs – maker of animations and stills that fulfilled many a player’s emotional needs post-game! Linked picture is still my wallpaper across all my devices! His Alternative-ending video was a truer bittersweet end before the EC was released!

#femshep on Deviant art and femshep.com – for all your fabulous Ms. Shepard artistic and narrative needs!

My own mass effect music playlist on youtube


Assassin’s Creed 3 VIP Event, Newcastle

I’m a huge games fan and, like most other people, got super hyped at the Assassin’s Creed 3 footage screened at E3 this year. So like any fan, when the opportunity arose for me to attend an Assassin’s Creed event in my hometown of Newcastle-upon-Tyne I jumped at the opportunity.

My VIP event invitation

As VIPs we were entitled to a few goodies, such as AC3 t-shirts, pin badges, posters and lanyards which were pretty awesome. Lots of people put their t-shirts on immediately but I was already wearing an Assassin’s Creed hoodie, so I didn’t switch. I did put my lanyard on though, makes you feel more like a VIP.

The room was appropriately decorated with both American and British flags, and loads of AC3 boxes which I really wanted to take home. There were 12 operational consoles, all of which sporting at least one of the past four Assassin’s Creed titles; from Assassin’s Creed, all the way to Revelations. There was such a big turn out, the viewing had to be split into two, so we made ourselves at home on the consoles as the first half of people made the first showing. We were treated to pizza and drinks, the largest order of Domino’s Pizza I’ve ever seen, and then made our way down to the VIP viewing area, which meant down our own little red carpet.

Josh Winward (@JRWinward), the Field Executive for Ubisoft, introduced himself and seemed super excited to be there. He was looking forward to showing us some of the new features. He proceeded to show off 3 different demos for us, 2 of which were seen at E3 and the third I had never seen before.

The first was the footage we saw during the Ubisoft conference at E3 early last month; The Frontier. Josh explained how difficult it was to walk through the deep snow in the woods, and demonstrated how running through the trees was a much more viable means of transportation. That doesn’t means there’s no horses! Connor still jumps on a horse to cover the large distance between the camp and the fortress. Josh also talked about runners, the people who try and sound the alarm and warn your target of your prescence, then nicely executed him with that rather beautiful tomahawk. A quick demonstration of how easily distractions work in aiding a more stealthy approach to your target and that was the first demo complete!

The second demo was seen at Sony’s E3 conference and that is the exciting concept of Naval combat. Josh informs us that you can take full control of the ship, have 360 degree camera control, and access to a range of weapons. To demonstrate, he sails a boat into the rapidly changing sea, and utilises a few weapons, including the ships main cannons that aim to sink other ships, a cannon which is much more precise and can deal huge amounts of damage, and of course the Chain shots which he uses to take out the ship’s masts and enables Connor to board the enemy ship.

Then the final demo emerged; Boston 1775. This was an opportune moment to show how the evasive techniques have adapted and changed. Firstly, I was impressed by the moving hay bales on the back of the NPC’s carts, and how you can assassinate from it, maybe because it looked like so much fun! Josh then moved on to complete a side-mission to help a woman get her husband from the Red-Coats. Connor is now able to use buildings as cover, and uses the woman to gain the guards attention, unaware that he was walking to his death. Connor then utilises the Rope Sling as a distraction for the other guards, and sneaks past to free the husband. Now, he is no longer incognito, so Josh shows us how it is easier to blend within the crowds, and how you can use your surroundings to assassinate guards, by driving a Red-Coats head through a pitchfork. We are shown that Connor can use open windows as a means of escape, by running through an unsuspecting lady’s house. We are also shown that your fellow assassins can now be summoned in disguises to allow passage through guarded sections, pretending to have Connor as a prisoner. To end the demo, Josh grabs a bayonet and drives it through a couple of guards on a boat, pushing the third overboard, then climbing the mast to show us that the game still has vast landscapes to explore.

(from left to right) Myself, Josh Winward and Andrien Gbinigie

Overall it was a great day, and watching the footage made me run to the game shop and pre-order the game, and free pizza is always a plus! I also got to meet Josh Winward and Andrien Gbinigie (@EscoBlades), Microsoft Xbox MVP, Deputy Editor for XboxGameZone and Machinima Partner & Director.

I’m really excited, so I better finish off Revelations quick! Release date is October 31st 2012.


Lollipop Chainsaw

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I promised poor Donna that I would write a post umpteen days ago about Botanicula; the truth is, I haven’t finished the game yet. I started it when I was visiting family – and things got busy. My grandfather was ill. So first it was I-has-a-sad (he’s much better, don’t worry) and then it was I-has-a-new-job and then it was – honestly I am just a horrible person and I have no excuses.

So here’s a review for an entirely different game!

Most of Lollipop Chainsaw was lost on me. By “most”, I mean boobs. I am unfortunately straight as a plank, and could not appreciate the eye-candy laid out (heh. heh.) before me. It was designed by the flashy exuberant sexy-obsessed Suda51 (Goichi Suda), of Shadows of the Damned and No More Heroes fame, and James Gunn (PG Porn), and was originally written in Japanese – as an English-speaking straight girl, I am entirely not the audience for this game.

Here are the things that didn’t get lost in translation:

1) The zombies actually talk. OMG! And everything they say is amusing. Congratulations to all concerned: translators and scriptwriters both.
2) Juliet is such a sweetheart. And her voice actress is amazing. Really spot-on.
3) Zombie concepts were so good! I loved the fact that different bosses got different levels based around different musical styles.
4) The music for this game includes The Human League, which, given my obsession with New Wave, means the game gets one billion bonus points. Also, Jimmy Urine is involved, and don’t you even start dissing MSI. The first guy I ever fell in love with introduced me to them – I will always be a fan.

The sentient A.I. I live with – slash my other 1/2 – reports that the fighting system is complex enough to warrant replay in the harder difficulties. (I suspect this translates from straight man into “SO MANY BIKINIS,” but I digress.)

Pictured: so many bikinis

Pictured: so many bikinis

Plus, you get to kick righteous ass with a sparkly chainsaw. Alas that you can’t choose what flavour of kawaii decorates your gore in the US version, but I thought the pink hearts were a nice touch.

Pictured: kicking righteous ass

Pictured: kicking righteous ass

I thought the story was a little short, and the graphics weren’t really up to par. Seriously, loves, you can do better; I know you can, because I played Shadows of the Damned a few months back. Sentient A.I. defended the length of the storyline (“BIKINIS”), and the graphics were playable (unlike the E3 gameplay preview for Dishonoured, wtf, welcome to 2004) – so I’m going to give it a 7/10 for people uninterested in boob physics, and an 8.5/10 for those who get the upskirt trophy without knowing there is one.

~ Alice M.


What fools these mortals be (Loc – PC/Mac)

Loc is a 3d puzzle game from Birnam wood games released earlier this month, this is the studios first game.

The games plot is really simple to understand; Humanity has caused so much damage to the earth that the last queen of the faeries has taken you prisoner and plans to keep you trapped in her realm as punishment for man kinds crime (Lucky you) ; In order to escape you must solve ‘Loc’ puzzles in order to make your way through the queens desolate realm and find your way out.

The game play is a bit more complex; using your mouse you need to drag a series of tiles across a face of a cube to create a path between the start and end tiles. As you progress the game’s difficulty will increase, adding tiles that you must use in order to continue; it gets even harder when you have to start building the path across more than one of the cubes faces, whilst making sure that your using the right tiles to create a working path. There is also a list of achievements that you can earn if you complete the level under certain conditions which is a nice little addition.

Overall Loc is a wonderful game,The art style is beautiful , the atmospheric music helps the player become more immersed in this intriguing setting that birnam wood games created. But why not try it out yourself, the game is available from their studios website Here for just over £3 ($5) and if your completely broke they even have a free demo.

~HeadphoneGirlZ


Saints Row the Third + DLC

“How long until the helicopter gets here?”

“Oh… about two waves of SWAT guys, I guess?”

That little exchange right at the beginning of Saints Row: The Third gives you an example of the tone, self-deprecating humor, and.. so very anti-Grand Theft Auto this game is. Not anti as in antagonistic, merely that it goes out of its way to show how different it is from what would be a possible natural first impression of the game. I know it was mine!

I played a lot of – but never finished – GTA:Vice City, wooed by its apparent comedy, completely awesome (to this child of the 80’s!) soundtrack and open sandbox gameplay. I skipped an installment and picked up GTA:IV upon release, and whilst I was agog at its visuals and scale; I was left cold by its story and niggling friend/cousin micro-management.  So I barely played it at all.

So… in 2011 Saints Row the Third arrives on the scene with some completely “whacky” adverts on the TV and, most crucially of all (to my personal tastes), a full campaign co-op multiplayer mode! I love co-op in games, especially those with big story arcs to follow, it just makes such a difference to be able to play through a game with a friend in this way. This is exactly what SR3 allows you to do, but that alone doth not a great game make, fortunately it manages to be that too.

As I alluded to earlier, the game takes the basic gameplay style of GTA, (driving, shooting, gangsters city exploration), and does away with any attempt to paint it in any kind of gritty realism in favour of bright day-glo colouring, larger than life characters, story, and events.

I am…. a toilet.. ?

The game allows you to play as male or female, (and um, change that if you so desire later in the game!), with full performances from the player-character for each. In fact, somewhat bizarrely you have a choice of voice-performance style to choose from at the start. (for female: default, Easter-European accented, or NEW YAWK accented !) These options are all defined about half-way through the (playable) intro with the usual character appearance customization, which is quite detailed in this particular game, I spent the usual half-hour or so tweaking it – I would later discover you can change your appearance in-game!

Now, I approached this game not having played any of the previous SR games, so I was initially a bit baffled by the characters and setting, but quickly warmed to it – especially when early on your co-gang member Johnny shouts “PROTECT THE BOSS!” – and I was all looking for the boss, until I realized it was me! This seemed all the cooler due to the simple fact that here was “Me”, the apparent female leader of this gang.

What follows is a rollercoaster action ride of the first 20 minutes of the game which forms the basis of an introduction, after which you’re in sandbox territory and, unlike GTA, the entirety of the city is at your disposal from the very beginning.

Head out on the highway…

As you explore, your map populates with shops, services and notable locations. Want to fly a plane? Head to the airport. Want a change of clothes? Find a clothing store. Fancy a bit of plastic surgery, a tattoo or pimped vehicle? – Just find one of the many places on the map that offer the service you want, right off the bat.

You pick up the primary story arc through interactions with your homies via your phone (which doubles as your GPS/map) as well as sideline quests of the usual escort, assassination, and fetch ilk.. and some slightly more unusual events.

The basic premise of the story is that by this installment of the game The Saints Row gang are celebrities, not really doing much gang-work, more into public appearances and product endorsement. During a bank-robbery “stunt” featuring the star of a Vampire-related TV show, it all goes wrong. The Saints are locked up and then taken to the leader of a crime Syndicate who expresses their intention to take over the Saint’s assets. This sets the basis of the story, The Saints reclaiming their mojo, taking on the Syndicate, and taking over the City of Steelport.

“This is some rescue!!”

This is an adult game, make no mistake, both in terms of language, content, and most certainly violence. If anything its more violent than GTA, with yours and other gangs at war with each other, the police, military and government. The violence is offset by the day-glo colour scheme, comedy, and sheer absurdity of it – but from a purely superficial standpoint it can look very violent, especially early on. Perseverance pays though, as you soon not so much get used to it, but are laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Weapons including a baseball bat with a huge purple dildo attached, the hilarious sound-effects of the Genki mind-controlling reluctant octopus launcher, (no, really), and the Land Shark launcher soon had me guffawing at it, not to mention the “car” chase played out with gimpsuited sex-slaves pulling carriages which, yes, as is customary, explode upon crashing! Did I mention this was an “adult” game?

Just another day in Steelport…?

What really sells this is the tongue-in-cheek performances of the actors, as well as some really good animation, and I absolutely *love* the fact that the characters interact with you “the Boss” the same regardless of your gender, this makes for a really satisfying experience playing this as a female, much the same as Mass Effect, there’s really Zero instances of “hey, sweet cheeks” – and when there is it is there regardless of the character’s gender – as my male co-op mate found out to his dismay in one scene where you’re drugged and staggering about the place naked (humorously “pixelated” bits, of course!)

There has been some comment however on the other females as depicted in the game, and I will put my Feminist hat on and say that yes, there is a huge element of scantily clad “bitches and ho’s” who seem to be mere objects and scenery in the game, but I’ll say that this is offset by the strength of the primary lead characters as written in the game – the player, and Shaundi, your right-hand-woman. Its likely something that everyone thinks, but I can’t imagine the game playing out with anything other than a female lead as the boss, and this is a good thing. One thing that did bother me was in the character creation – for some reason the developers think that anyone over the age of 10 has some serious wrinkleage, when I put in my actual age I was horrified at the apparent wrinkley face I supposedly must have if my character was anything to go by. Perhaps its all that sunny weather. On the other hand I was all ready to be incensed about the “Sex appeal” slider being the Boob-size adjustment, but upon checking I found that the same slider affected the size of the male sausage compartment, ha!

Also, there’s a good share of male objectification in the game too. Another nice touch is that you can choose the “uniform” of your entire gang so if you want your girls and boys running around scantily, or sensibly, you choose so yourself.

I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the fact that I absolutely loved the whole “dress-up” nature to this game which is one of its selling points. You can inexplicably walk around the city green-skinned, with a mustache, wearing a space helmet, Lady GaGa-esque couture dress, and combat boots. The clothes shops are simply and comically themed (“Let’s Pretend!” – cosplay fun, “Nobody Loves Me” – Goth/emo fashion, “Leather & Lace” – well.. you can imagine)

Today I will mostly be… Steampunk

As I’ve mentioned the game is very bright, colourful, and graphically very nice, though the characters suffer a lot from the “Uncanny Valley” – I guess we’ve been spoiled by other games recently with character emotion depiction as SR3 is definitely not the best at this, but it hides this with unsubtle exaggerated design.

The game itself was just a pleasure to play, and replay in single player as well as co-op. The winning factor is its sense of fun. I frequently found myself laughing or staring agog at the screen with incredulity.

I picked up the game not that long after release cheaply including a “season pass” to DLC, and the DLC has been a mixed bag of “costumes”, vehicles, weapons, and missions. The missions vary from being small little diversions, to fairly large chunks of standalone fun. I’ve seen the game only (no DLC) this week for sale online for £7 for the PC version (reviewed) which I bought as well so that my niece(teen) and I could replay it for this review.

Posing, casually, but awesomely.

If you can laugh at toilet humour, comedy sex, innuendo and tolerate people being shot (a lot) then I think you’ll enjoy this game very much.  The game has lots of little nods to films, other games, and even ye olde retro text adventures at one point.

Special mention for the soundtrack, that whilst featuring the usual assortment of in-car radio stations (though not as full of character as GTA’s) also has some real standout work, including a song sung by the lead characters, a Michael Bay-esque orchestral score for a scene involving… Well, the shooting of a movie… and a totally left field (but oh so wonderfully appropriate) turn of music for the very unusual finale!

Finally, merely listing the keywords associated with the game should provide you some idea of its bizarre nature:

Guns, shooting, gimps, pimps, zombies, Burt Reynolds, sky-diving, toilet,  gangstas and spaceships.

~K8bit

Gangstas…. in SPAAAAACE!