Friday, September 13, 2013

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

XCOM is a touchy franchise for me; I loved the style and gameplay of Enemy Unknown, but never really got in to the older XCOM titles. I know some of you might be all “what? This guy never got in to classic XCOM! Fuck this review”, but before you get all pretentious on me please compare The Bureau to older XCOM titles, you’ll find that the only similarity is in the name, XCOM, and the fact that there’s aliens invading, that’s it! The Bureau strays so far from familiar ground in the series that it’s basically a new game altogether (as was apparent when I preordered it and it took 15 minutes for the service desk to find it on their computers because it was not filed under the title of XCOM). But this doesn’t make The Bureau a bad game…

Set in late 1962, The Bureau starts off with CIA special agent William Carter sitting in a dingy hotel room having a drink by himself. Carter is tasked with delivering a secret package to Groom Range, that is until all hell breaks loose and pissed off aliens start raining down from the skies, tasking you with the mission of getting the hell out of there! Although The Bureau grabs players right away with action from the moment you start up the game, it felt kind of rushed, as there was little time to get to know the protagonist and not much time to get used to the controls before you were faced with five or six aliens trying to blow your brains out. The controls were a big thing for me as I found them to be a bit tight at the beginning, making it harder to aim and making fights one hell of a chore to begin with (thank god for auto aim). But the game lets you know early on that it doesn’t want you to focus on combat yourself, it puts more emphasis on being a commander. With the press of a button you can open up a command wheel mid fight, with the command wheel open time slows to almost a stop and you have the option to select orders for the two agents you have fighting alongside you or use your own abilities. This may turn quite a few players away from The Bureau, because instead of focusing highly on squad based combat (like the Mass Effect series), The Bureau basically demands it with idiotic AI that will run in to the middle of an open area and constantly complain that it doesn’t have any orders until you give it orders, then even giving orders can have its downsides when your teammates get stuck somewhere because they don’t understand how to run around
you to the cover you told them to go to (luckily they can shoot through walls). The combat picks up after the first mission though as you’ll be more familiar with the controls and able to help out your team in the heat of battle, it becomes quite enjoyable actually as you discover new technology and earn new abilities for yourself and your team. The Bureau is quite a story heavy game so if you’re not in to talking to everyone and reading every letter you find along the way, maybe this isn’t the game for you, as you’ll be missing the full experience of the alien invasion and might start to get annoyed when spending time at headquarters with the talkative characters that dwell within.

The Bureau has some pretty mediocre graphics, even when set on the highest settings on PC, but it can still look beautiful when it really wants to. The characters movements can be pretty stiff in and out of battle, and you’ll start to notice that Carter seems to fiddle around with his hands constantly while talking to other characters, in an infinite loop of awkwardness. The game also has some pretty good voice acting and an intense soundtrack to really get the adrenaline pumping when in combat.

Overall, The Bureau is a great game, complete with a strong story, fun combat (due to its command system), and interesting collectables to come across. But it does falter in quite a few ways: if you want to experience the whole story you will need to be prepared to read every single letter and look at every single photograph you come across, otherwise the story will still be good but it may feel a little empty with quite a few things being untold or not told as well as they could have been, the AI can be a bit difficult to deal with at times due to their reliance on your orders and ability to make stupid moves in the middle of combat which can result in you having to dive in to the middle of gunfire to revive them before they bleed out. I did also find a few bugs throughout the time I played the game but none of them were anything too major.

So, if you’re looking for the next best XCOM title, avoid The Bureau and wait for the expansion to Enemy Unknown. The Bureau doesn’t stick to typical XCOM roots but is still a great game for what it delivers, and although it lacks replay ability with no online mode and the ability to collect everything in one play through, I would recommend it to those looking for a filler title or just a great, story driven game.

Time played: 9 hours 23 minutes (game not complete)
Played on: PC

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Managing Life and Video Games

When you’re young it’s easy to lose yourself in hours and hours of game play; playing games well in to the early hours of the morning isn’t unusual (well it wasn’t for me), there’s all the time in the world to explore other worlds, but then grown up life smacks you in the face… work and family become your main priority and video games fade away in to the background, all your time is taken up by the responsibilities of adult hood, leaving you to squeeze in small gaming sessions wherever possible. It’s a difficult truth to take in for a gamer, but don’t go selling your collection yet! Let me explain to you some ways to manage this, some ways to get the most out of your gaming and how to get it.

You see, I’m an editor for a newspaper and a part time studier, so getting a gaming session in every now-and-then is hard between all the work and homework, but after a few months I think I’ve found a way to get everything done and quench my gaming urge. The first thing you’ll have to realise is that console and PC gaming may have to step to the side, in most cases those platforms will be too difficult to fit in, mainly because a majority of the games on them will take up hours of your time in one go (they’re hard to pull away from). You need to find a new way to game, a way that can be managed in small intervals, you’ll find that:

Portable Gaming is Your Friend

Nintendo’s 3DS, Sony’s Playstation Vita, Smartphones, they’ll all become your best friends because they all allow you to fit in small gaming sessions, anywhere, that can be left in an instant. When you’re cut for time portable gaming can be a godsend (even more so now that it has progressed to almost the level of console gaming) as it can be done on your daily commute to work, on your lunch break, anywhere! And it can also be broken into short intervals as all these devices have the ability to sleep or put a game in to the background for later play, meaning you can take that call, tend to that screaming baby, or whatever hails you, without losing any of that precious game play. Maybe you don’t want to break up the story though by putting your device to sleep, maybe you want to play a game for about 20 minutes or so but all the cut scenes really drag on and are taking up your time, what can you do? How do you get all the gameplay you want without skipping those long cut scenes? Choose games that are already broken in to short intervals, you’ll find that games like Mario that require you to play through one stage then choose the next are fantastic for those quick gaming sessions in that they don’t have overly long cut scenes (if any at all) and you can play one level for 20 minutes then leave. Recently I’ve been partaking in Luigi’s Mansion 2 on the 3DS and it’s fantastic for those short gaming sessions in that it’s broken up in to levels as I said; I get engrossed in one level, really enjoy myself, then once I’ve finished the game saves itself and I can come back later, perfect!

Integrate Gaming with Your Life

If you don’t own a portable gaming console or they haven’t quenched your urge to game, why not try integrating gaming in to your everyday life. There’s a large variety of ways that this can be done, for example: let’s say you’re at home and you have to spend time with your kids, have one of those bonding moments, well why not switch on the console and have a gaming session together! The kids will love it, nothing like spending some time playing Mario, Lego games, or whatever you know will get them excited for bonding time, and it’ll give you some gaming time also. You can do this with your partner too; instead of going out one night suggest a romantic night in gaming together and pull out the co-op games to really work together as a couple (playing competitive games together may end badly). If you’re lacking in the partner/kid department though, or if you just don’t want to game with them, that’s ok, no one will judge you, there’s other options! If you check the App Store or Android Market you’ll find a large array of gaming apps that can integrate with life; like ‘Zombies, Run!’ a game that works with your exercising regime, just plug in your headphones and run! You’ll hear zombies behind you, they’ll be chasing you down, so just keep on running and you’ll also collect supplies to grow your base once you get home. Not keen on running though? Ok, well how about ‘Code Runner’ a game that uses an overhead map and your phone’s GPS system to track you as you play as a secret agent in your very own neighbourhood, you’ll be given tasks to complete and areas to head to so that you can collect evidence, it’s a game that promotes exploring and outside activity at your own pace, no stress.

There are many ways to fit those gaming sessions in to your busy, busy life, these are only the two I find most effective, I’m sure you’ll discover your own ways in time. Just remember to: Prioritise, never choose video games over your family, work or study, because if you do it will lead to stress, arguments or even job loss which is not only bad for you as a healthy adult but it will also impact your gaming sessions causing you to enjoy your game less due to stress or worries. Be selective; it’s tempting, I know, to go out and buy every new release that catches your eye, but you’ll realise that doing that not only impacts your wallet but will also leave you with half a collection still in its wrapping, you don’t need that extra temptation and guilt of unplayed games, not with your life being as full as it is, so keep your collection beautiful by only filling it up with those games that you love and not those that you just want – If you’re hesitant about buying it you can’t be that excited for it and will probably never play it.

So enjoy your life, never choose gaming over it just find ways to fit it into the puzzle and you’ll eventually find that perfect balance between the two. There’s no need to give up the virtual world.

Friday, January 25, 2013

DmC: Devil May Cry Review

I’m a huge Devil May Cry fan and yes, I’ll admit it, when the reboot (DmC) was announced I instantly hated everything about it; the new Dante’s face pissed me off, the new music, the setting, the fact that Rebellion and Ebony and Ivory looked... odd, and yes... the lack of white hair got to me... it was like Capcom was trying to attack me as an individual, saying things like: “oh, you wanted Devil May Cry 5, for us to continue with the original story and possibly give you a conclusion? Well screw you loyal fan! We don’t care what you want or nothing!” It was difficult for me to come to terms with DmC, seeing it advertised made me angry, but alas... when I saw that the ‘Son of Sparda’ special edition came with Dante’s necklace I brought it two days after release... I did what I told myself I definitely wouldn’t do, I added another sale on Capcom’s list of “is DmC a success?” and, well, I’m glad I did!

DmC: Devil May Cry is a retelling of Dante’s origin story, developed by Ninja Theory; it removes the familiarity that players had with the series’ original protagonist and changes him into a more casual looking fellow, someone that you’d expect to see wandering the streets in real life. In my experience, rebooting a video game series never ends well (eg: Prince of Persia), so it’s with great pleasure that I say that DmC is a reboot done right! It holds onto all that made the Devil May Cry series popular while adding some touches of its own.

The gameplay in DmC is very similar to its original series: stylish combat is a trademark of the Devil May Cry series and it flows wonderfully in DmC, with an array of weapons that are interchangeable during combat and a vast selection of moves (upgradable for Dante and his weapons), you’ll find yourself pulling off some incredible combos with the encouragement of the style meter – Although I did feel that the style meter was easier to fill than in the older games. The combat sticks to its roots, but that isn’t the only plus to DmC, a big piece of this game is its environments. Being pulled into limbo is something I found myself looking forward to; not only is it beautiful to look at, with all its colours and excitement, it’s also a blast to play through. The environments in DmC are dynamic, meaning that they constantly change; you could be walking through a hallway in limbo and then have it suddenly grow longer or tear apart without warning, this makes DmC a wonder to play, not knowing what’s coming next, and will provide many memorable moments for players. I found the gameplay in DmC to be one of its biggest driving points; it kept me coming back for more and, although the difficulty felt slightly lowered, provided some of the most exciting environment’s that I’ve ever played through in a video game.

The story I found to be gripping at times but at other times forgetful... following Dante on his journey to defeat Mundus (sounds familiar) with his brother Vergil you’re introduced to a few characters but it’s rare to find some that will leave an impact... the only characters I found myself caring about were Dante and somewhat Vergil (but I knew that guy could take care of himself), Kat and the others were just background noise, it just seemed like they didn’t matter as much as they should have. On a lighter note though, the story is an interesting (yet predictable) one, following a basic video game formula of: destroy these things to unlock the boss. The cut scenes are played out well and the voice acting is wonderful, it gives you the feeling that you’re watching a movie more than playing a video game. The story of DmC plays well with the gameplay, delivering a wonderful experience, although it does run short though – I found myself clocking in at around 9 hours to complete (granted I didn’t spend too much time exploring for collectibles).

There is also a decent amount of replay ability in DmC (as there is in other Devil May Cry games): with its large amount of collectibles (lost souls, secret missions, keys, artwork, and costumes) that require you to complete certain tasks and take your time to explore levels to find, and then there’s the different difficulties that we all know and love so much (eg: Devil Hunter, Human, Dante Must Die, etc...), each introducing new ways to play; whether that be different/harder enemy waves or one hit kills. DmC doesn’t just fade away once the story is completed, making it worth its price.

So, overall, DmC: Devil May Cry was a worthy buy in my books. Fans of the original Devil May Cry series have nothing to worry about and should give this title a chance, like I did, they’ll find that it is very similar to the original series and even has a few tributes and bits-n’-pieces that will have classic fans jumping excitedly. It does have some flaws: a short story, less than memorable characters, lowered difficulty, etc... but in the end it is a fantastic reboot, I never thought I’d be saying that but it is! Ninja Theory did a great job on this one, DmC is definitely worth a play by Devil May Cry fans, new and old, hack n’ slash fans, or anyone that finds it remotely interesting.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Top 5 Games of 2012

Thinking about it, I didn’t buy too many of the new releases in 2012, most of the titles I purchased were from years past (thanks to Steam sales). But none-the-less I thought I’d create a list of my top 5 games from last year, so sit back and let me share with you the top five digital adventures that I experienced in a year gone:

Paper Mario: Sticker Star
The first 3DS game I actually took great interest in, Paper Mario: Sticker Star was all that I expected and more!
Before this game my 3DS was played on occasion, there were a few times where I’d pour hours into Ocarina of Time or New Super Mario Bros 2 but that died quickly, no game had grabbed my attention like this. Sticker Star is the first Paper Mario title to be released on the 3DS and does so wonderfully. Collecting stickers, using them in battle, and uncovering all the little secrets that are hidden throughout the world are great fun, and it doesn’t even bother me that Miyamoto (creator of Mario) convinced his team that the story wasn’t important because, let’s face it, story is very rarely a driving point in Mario games, game play is the ticket and Sticker Star delivers a shining effort!

X-Com Enemy Unknown
It’s been a long time since I’ve come across such a pure strategy game, X-Com Enemy Unknown definitely deserves the time of any real-time strategy fan. This is a turn based strategy game done right!
Enemy Unknown throws the player into an alien invasion and you (being the commander of X-com) must train your soldiers, win the favour of countries, launch satellites, conduct research, fight it out on the battlefield, and basically run an entire operation on exterminating the alien threat from earth. X-com is a series that started back in 1994 and I’m sure fans of that classic series would love this game, it just holds on to its roots that well! A true strategy game that won’t die in my eyes for a long time.

Assassin’s Creed 3
Although I told myself I would avoid it for a few months; on the day Assassin’s Creed 3 brought itself out into the world I found myself wandering into an EB Games store and grabbing a copy, and it was worth the buy.
Assassin’s Creed 3 was a welcome revamp of the Assassin’s Creed series. Leaving behind the (used to death) former protagonist Ezio Auditore and introducing us to a new face: Connor. The new protagonist was one of the main driving points behind my purchase – Although I enjoyed each Assassin’s Creed title I was starting to lose interest by the release of Revelations due to the fact that Ubisoft just didn’t know how to let a character die. The game is the best release in the series (in my opinion); with all of its new faces, weapons, an interesting story, being set in the American Revolution, etc... It was definitely a worthy buy.

Thanks to my victory in a little competition Sony was running I acquired myself a free $30 voucher for the Playstation Network and as soon as that winning email hit my inbox I knew the first thing that I was going to use it on was Journey.
Thatgamecompany have always created some absolutely fantastic games, from Flower to Flow and then to Journey, I’ve always had a love for their artistic style of games, and Journey was no different. Starting off as a little cloaked character in the middle of a seemingly endless desert you take your first steps into a magical world filled with secrets, dangers, and unforgettable experiences. The online system in Journey is random; meaning a random player can join your game at any time, without warning, but this is part of the experience because (if you’re anything like me) you’ll instantly work together with your teammate and form a bond that will last throughout the story. Adding to this experience aswell is the fact that players can only communicate through little tunes that their characters create (so no angry kid yelling at you to do what they want, just a smooth, pleasant rhythm of their rage). Journey is a game I’ll never forget, it’s just so unique and magical, and I’m sure anybody that has played it will agree with me.

Darksiders 2
Continuing that dark, comic bookish style introduced in the original, Darksiders 2 throws us into the shoes of another horseman of the apocalypse: Death.
It was a title I eagerly awaited playing and it was all I expected. The game play didn’t feel too different from the original Darksiders game (except for the more acrobatic style of Death) and the story was very engaging. Vigil Games obviously didn’t feel the need to upgrade the series much since the release of the original title and I say: “why would they?” if ‘Batman: Arkham City’ has taught us anything: why fix what isn’t broken? Darksiders 2 is a great title and kept me engaged all the way through; eagerly fighting to see how Death would save his brother in the end.

And that’s it, my top 5 games of 2012, each a title worthy of my time and definitely worth a play by anyone that hasn’t grabbed one of them yet.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Touch Screens and the Hardcore Gaming Market

So here I am, back on the interwebs with a prettied up blog, and what can I post about first... well there’s Windows 8, due for release tonight, and the issues with that... game publishers bailing out of publishing on it, etc... and touch screen technology.

Yes, touch screens; they seem to be everywhere now: on fridges, in cars, mobile phones have them, computers have them, everything has a touch screen! It’s becoming a normal thing now, even little kids know how to use an iPad or iPhone better than most adults nowadays, and that’s not a bad thing. Touch screens can be good as they enable users to interact with software better and can deliver multiple uses to a piece of hardware, but the one thing I find them to be horrible for, the one piece of entertainment that I think touch screens should stay away from (unless done correctly) is the “hardcore” gaming market.

It’s become huge now, video games have moved out of the lounge room, off of the monitor, and right into the palm of your hand. There’s no better way to pass the time on a train ride then playing some Cut the Rope or Angry Birds, these are little games that require a small attention span and can be played within short periods, and that’s why everyone loves them. Everyone carries their phone or tablet with them all the time and that’s what makes these little apps great! The convenience of them is marvellous and they use touch screen technology brilliantly, and that’s the thing... little games, short little time wasters are great for touch screens but how about the big guns, proper titles like Diablo, Halo, and Call of Duty, it’s been tried before and I just don’t see it... “hardcore” games aren’t designed for touch screen technology.

Ever tried playing a “hardcore” game on your iPhone or iPad? It can cause cramped fingers and just doesn’t feel right, yeah? Well that’s the thing; those are the type of games that should be played comfortably, with a controller on a nice big TV, not with touch screens. But with all these publishers shoving their “proper” titles into the App Store and Android Market it’s becoming harder to argue that point, it’s cheaper and easier to design titles for those mediums (other than the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360), and that’s why I (unfortunately) believe that one day the common way of gaming with a controller and a console will die out, we’ll all have a touch screen device and those gamers that grew up with a controller in hand will be shoved aside and ignored. Even PC gaming could fall if touch screens become a crucial part of using your personal computer.

Don’t get me wrong though, touch screen gaming can be done right; we’ve been shown that through Nintendo’s DS and the PS Vita. The thing that these consoles do right, I feel, is the way they allow you to play; you may have noticed that when playing most DS games the touch screen isn’t exactly crucial, a D-pad and other buttons are provided (almost like a controller would have), the screen is a nice size, and the type of games published on the console are the kind of games you can play on the go, not like the “hardcore” games that can be purchased on iPhones and iPads (eg. Dead Space, Devil May Cry, etc...). So yeah... portable touch screen gaming can be done right, especially when developed on a console designed for that purpose, but at the moment it’s not being done right when published on phones and tablets, yet most people still support and accept it (especially publishers like EA, etc...) and that’s the scary thing....

I guess we’ll have to wait and see though, even though I, myself, find “hardcore” touch screen gaming on tablets and phones annoying and inconvenient that doesn’t change that fact that it’s growing and will most likely continue to grow... game publishers find it to be a flourishing market and therefore will continue to put effort into getting titles out there. Hopefully though consoles and PC gaming will continue to get the support they deserve, because, think about it, would you feel right playing your favourite game on an iPhone or iPad? A digital control pad taking up half the screen?

I think I’ll end my rant here.