Friday, 8 July 2011

Dragon Age II's first DLC pack revealed.

When almost all of your friends and cohorts are killed by an invading Darkspawn horde and you’re thrown into a deep-rooted political war between two immensely powerful factions - things can only get better, right? Not if your name is Hawke. Which it always is.

Once again players will be given the chance to enter the world of Dragon Age II in the latest downloadable content pack ‘legacy’. The plot of which revolves around you, Mr/Mrs Hawke leaving Kirkwall to find an ancient Grey Warden prison to uncover, you guessed it, a deep and disturbing mystery. Players will find out more about the noble Hawke lineage and just why they’re so special – perhaps you’ll meet your powerful and wise ancestor Ethan.

Hawke’s faithful allies (a.k.a The Hawk-Men) will also return to aid you on your perilous quest – also available will be either of your two siblings Bethany or Carver dependant on which one your parents loved the most. Hawke will also receive an upgradeable new and powerful weapon based on his or her class – mysteriously referred to as ‘Hawke’s Key’. There will also be a handful of levels where Hawke loses his weapon only to have left it on the dining-room table.

Developer Bioware are said to have taken note of some of the gripes players had with the original Dragon Age II and have delivered a new setting for the game – the Vimmark Mountains as well as cranking up the need for more tactical and strategic gameplay. New villains will be encountered over the course of the campaign as well as all new darkspawn rising from the depths of the deep-roads to pester the player – each with varied and unique abilities- such as the power to bite or claw or stab…or claw with the other hand. Ominous voice-overs from the initial teaser trailer also hint at the inclusion of 'the most powerful darkspawn the Grey Wardens have ever encountered'.

The DLC will take place before the events of the end game, though it can be played any time during or after the campaign. It will be released on the 26th of July to coincide with Kate Beckinsale’s birthday (look it up) - happy Birthday Kate and may your divine lineage of dragon slaying warriors be kept a secret for generations to come. Fans of Bioware’s RPG epic should be sure not to miss this, sure to magical, expansion to the magical world of Dragon Age.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The best laid plots of Vice and Men

Games can exist with the most minimal of story-telling - Why do we arrange the blocks in Tetris? Because we are simply asked to. Why does Mario need embark on his quest? Because he has to save the princess. As this ever adapting medium grows however the stories of modern titles seem to be taking on new merit - delivering atmosphere and themes not completely dissimilar to that of acclaimed literature and film.

L.A noire exceeds in this aspect - its story-telling taking on some of the more complex features and formation that would be found in the greatest of texts. Even to the point where this gritty recreation of L.A  parallels Shakespeare.

German dramatist Gustav Freytag stated that many plot-lines, in both literature and stage, follow the structure of what he described as "Freytag's Pyramid" or the dramatic arc. L.A Noire is no exception to this dramatic device. Freytag put forward that most works followed the structure of an Exposition - Rising action - Climax - followed by a Downfall and then a resolution. Usually this formula's "Rising Action" "Climax" and "Downfall"  refer to the journey of the central character. This staple of most classic literature was true for Macbeth and Othello and is similarly true for L.A Noire's Cole Phelps.

Whilst L.A Noire is not split up into the Acts that would commonly be found in a play it is segmented into five distinct parts - the five positions that Phelps holds in the police department. The exposition takes the form of the tutorial levels - Phelps is established as a character through a short burst of action during his time as a beat-cop. This is followed by the rising action which takes the form of Phelp's promotion to Homicide, this is where we see him most grow as a character in terms of both his own opinion and the opinions of others towards him. We see Cole's longing to be a 'legit' cop as well as small incites into his past.

The Climax of Phelps' character development revolves around his time in Vice - at this point in the game's story Phelps comes close to solving a major case that would expose the depths of an underground morphine ring in L.A. It is in the final scenes of this act that Cole is then betrayed by his partner Roy Earle. In many works of Shakespeare the equivalent to this part of the story is the pivotal scene - In Othello, for example, this marks the start of Othello's descent into an almost inhumane rage due to Iago's betrayal. A downfall caused by a conniving 'partner' - that does sound familiar.

Phelps' fall from grace takes the form of his demotion to Arson. Cole is found out to have had an affair with a German singer named Elsa - her addiction to morphine and  the seductively tempting nature of her siren-songs being the ultimate symbol of Vice. This is the point where Cole loses everything- his wife, his daughters and his reputation. It can even be argued that he shows signs of a mental instability at this point - he seems obsessed with 'getting back' at the LAPD higher-ups that have wronged him in conversations with his partner Hershel. There is also a scene where he lashes out at his lover Elsa when he fears his plan to uncover the corruption engraved deep in the heart of L.A is going awry later in the game. Just as Julius Caesar fell victim to his own downfall after meeting the temptress Cleopatra - Cole Phelps falls from a 'War Hero' to the shell of his former self after meeting Elsa.

The final 'act' is the most poetic for Cole - in a similar vain to many works of Shakespeare the 'resolution' isn't always a happy one. Cole dies trying to unmask the deep-rooted corrupt nature of Los Angeles government. Strikingly - he doesn't die a hero and he doesn't succeed in his am. However, this is the most fitting way that Cole could have died. In the end Cole wasn't the hero of the tale - he was a man who cheated on his wife and didn't get to expose the corruption that he worked so hard to fight against. But he never wanted to be the hero and he was never meant to be. Ultimately he was just another man betrayed by forces much greater than him. In a way this is fitting - because it equalises him with the men he felt so guilty losing in the war. The men Cole felt that he had denied heroism - the men that, through constant flash-backs to war, he could never forget. That is Cole's Closure - he was never meant to be special. At one point Kelso tells Cole that "Nobody deserves a medal, it's just the ridiculous situation you find yourself in and how you react to it" - the ending of L.A Noire echoes this sentiment - not everyone who gets put into the forefront of a dangerous situation comes out the hero. A poignant allegory of war. Phelps is even denied heroism to the point where his the final climactic scenes of the game are taken on by his ex-war compatriot Jack Kelso.

Thus the dramatic tale of Cole Phelps' rise and fall is given to the player. The 'Golden Boy' from the city of Angels apparently flew too close to the sun and had his wings burnt.  L.A Noire is aware that its strong suit is story telling and the developers at Team Bondi presented their hand with the type of flare that will mean that L.A  will surely be reminded as one of the strongest stories in Video Game history.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

Just a note: Due to Exams, updates have been a bit scarce - this is soon to be rectified.

Rectified. All. The. Way.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Two can be as bad as one (part 2)

You know what sucks? Potentially losing your son to a psychotic serial killer who constantly mocks you and makes you face potentially fatal trials in order to receive titbits of information regarding his whereabouts. Good opportunity to meet women though.

Essentially Heavy Rain presents the human condition under high amounts of pressure, it's a daunting and engaging tale and the conflict of emotion is a central theme in the game's story-telling. Therefore it is not unexpected that the exploration or romantic feeling is available to the player through one of the game's protagonists- Ethan. It is not, however, essential.

Ethan, having faced his share of tragedies in the opening segments of the game finds himself single and alone. In order to cheer himself up a bit he decides to play the worlds most dangerous game of hide and seek with his son, Shaun. That's how I like to remember the game anyway. In reality Shaun is captured by the infamous 'Origami Killer'. A murderer so twisted that he actually folds his victims into the shapes of swans and boats...That doesn't happen either.  

Ethan faces many a peril on his journey to find Shaun and along his path he meets the mysterious journalist Madison Paige. Madison begins to take an interest in Ethan's strange behaviour and impressive facial animation and eventually, through her, Ethan gains moments of solace during his time of anguish. 

From then on an unlikely romance doth bloom. The climax of which revolves around a touching moment far into the game when the player is presented with the opportunity to make your feelings for Madison known. Ethan shares an intimate moment with her, still distraught over not having found your son. You sit together, just the two of you on the floor of a rented apartment. You lean in and press X to shout her name.  The player is then given the choice of whether or not they want to continue romancing Madison.

Once again the player that wants to remain single is catered for, you feel just as emotionally invested in Ethan as a character if he chooses not to engage in romance. The story delivers on whatever choice that the player decides and nothing is lost from the experience if you choose a certain path. Well, except an increasingly awkward cut-scene if you chose to play the game with your parents or significant other in the room. 

Thematically however is there something lost in playing a love-less Heavy rain? In essence the game's opening segment, which depicts Ethan's happy life with his two children and wife, demonstrates to us the wholeness of a character. Through the tragic loss of life that character drains into seemingly a hollow vessel which we as the player must fill with our own new experiences. One of the pieces that's taken from Ethan is that of his love-life, so in choosing not to begin a relationships a-new are we really experiencing the full thematic development of a character?

Well, in a way the player never does lose out, Ethan's life may never be the same again but for the freedom of choice to remain important it must be understood that some things will always permanently be lost. A theme that's revealed early on in the game through the emergence of death in an otherwise idyllic scene.

The single player is still respected. Ethan's journey feels just as complete without romance by the end segments of the game, as does Madison's. For the lone protagonist it's not a case of 'Heavy Pain'.

That was poor.


Monday, 30 May 2011

One is the loneliest number (Part 1)

The cold sting of loneliness is a feeling not completely unfamiliar to most gamers. Many games are designed with the lone-wolf in mind. In fact, I bet you're alone reading this right now. Crying.

However, an interesting phenomena has arisen in many current generation games. The protagonist must always, for some reason, require a significant other. Do we not feel our character whole unless they can wrap their virtual arms around a group of pixels and polygons whom they adore? Do we not respect our gritty action hero as much if he doesn't occasionally throw down his chainsaw-photon-lazer cannon in a mad fit of passion? Or is this just the staple of the medium's progression and maturation - and we  have come to expect the same themes present in the best literature or film in Video Games?

Thus I will take you on a journey, a journey of emotional connection and feelings (but not bitterness) as I examine the way relationships are explored in modern games- and also the way in which the single protagonist is put across (but not because I'm bitter).

(Spoilers may follow)

Mass Effect

Long gone are the days where the potential romance of a blue temptress causes controversy. In fact, most gamers now demand it, which has led to some very questionable decisions on the part of the development team behind the upcoming Smurf tie-in movie game.

Mass Effect has been this generation's flagship title in regards to giving the player a variety of options when it comes to seducing. Do you like anthropomorphic bird people? Or perhaps blue tendril-headed women are more you thing? Even Humans (you sicko) are catered for in Bioware's epic sci-fi series.

Relationships are handled in Mass Effect much in the same way they are in real life. You start a conversation with someone you're interested in, say something stupid, re-load your save file and try again. Your companion will eventually show signs of interest; they may wink at you suggestively, awkwardly fidget whenever you come near or even, sweetest of all, implant their alien spawn ready for it to burst forth from your stomach in an explosion of gore. Whomever you choose to court you're guaranteed by the end of the game to have them reveal their feelings for you, you may then proceed to the bedroom. To discuss battle-tactics and particle acceleration. 

However, do the players who choose to have their Shepard remain single gain the full package? Or is a single Shepard a hollow shell of a being?

In the first instalment of the series not a lot will change if your Shepard chooses to stay focused on his or her mission. The choice is there for you to remain single and you're not penalised for choosing it. This is where Mass Effect excels, choice. It appears that in the modern world of gaming a lot of storylines will thrust romance upon you. (what a terrible choice of words) A lone Commander, in this case, appears to be just as well-rounded as the hero who takes to the stars in search of love. I mean, apart from that cut-scene that plays where he or she curls up in the foetal position and gently cries themselves to sleep in their cabin. Other then that it's fine. Okay, maybe that doesn't happen.

In the second Mass Effect there is also acknowledgement given to those who choose to remain loyal to their love interests from the first game, because if there's one thing gamers long for it's fidelity.(For the sake of not spoiling the game I will replace key words in the next few sentences with code words).

Before the final mission where Shepard ventures off to finally confront the DANDELIONS a cutscene will play - if you have chosen to romance one of your crew they will appear in your cabin - ready for the intimate discussion of battle-tactics. If you remain loyal to a previous love-interest instead of gallivanting about your ship like a interstellar Romeo however, your Shepard will be portrayed longingly gazing at a framed picture of said previous interest. Before gearing up to stop the inevitable DANDELION threat of course. So whilst there may be no reward given to the gamer who wants to remain completely single throughout the entirety of the Mass Effect series at least there is an equal sense of emotional attachment given to those who stay single in the series' second instalment.

Well, in most cases this will happen - for some reason my game portrayed my male Shepard who had romanced Liara as staring intently at a picture of his former lieutenant Kaidan. My Shepard was a deeply conflicted fellow.

Therefore, Mass Effect treats the player who chooses to remain alone just as well as the player who wants to sow his wild space-oats across the galaxy. Ultimately no relationship is forced onto the player and you lose nothing significant for choosing this path. Your hero can still be a hero regardless of whether they do it alone or whether they bring a +1 into the picture.  

Next Heavy Rain...

Monday, 16 May 2011

SCEE Welcome back package detailed

This information was taken from the official Playstation EU blog and has since been taken down:
Two PS3 games from the following list:
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • Infamous*
  • Wipeout HD/Fury
  • Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty
  • Dead Nation*
For those with PSP accounts, you will also be eligible to download two PSP games from the following list:
  • LittleBigPlanet PSP
  • ModNation PSP
  • Pursuit Force
  • Killzone Liberation*
- 30 days free PlayStation Plus membership for non PS Plus subscribers*
- Existing PlayStation Plus subscribers will be given 60 days free subscription.
- For existing Music Unlimited subscribers, you will be given 30 days free subscription

There was also some indication that there will be some form of gift for Playstation Home users. What exactly this includes was not detailed.

*German PSN users will not be receiving these games but will instead get Super Stardust HD and Hustle Kings on the PS3. Also, German PSP owners will get Everybody's Gold 2 and Buzz Junior Jungle party instead of  Pursuit Force and Killzone Liberation on the PSP.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Yakuza 4 Review

Stand in front of the mirror and look yourself up and down. Is your finely ironed business-wear smattered with the dried blood of rival crime syndicates? No? Then perhaps Yakuza 4 can fix that for you.

Sega's yearly plunge into the criminal underworld of Japan is back once again and whilst this years model may not stray too far from the original recipe of face grinding and neck snapping - it's a well crafted addition to a solid series.

Set in the red light district of Kamurocho, a fictional town in Tokyo, Yakuza 4 presents a gritty and authentically Japanese portrayal of Japan's criminal underworld. During the course of the story the player is introduced to four strikingly different characters who's paths become intertwined after a string of murders and revelations of corruption that's embedded deep in the Yakuza's operations. These are:
Shun Akiyama, a money-lender who can mysteriously charge no interests on his loans.
Taiga Saejima, a convict on the run from the law after being convicted of killing 18 members or a rival yakuza family single handedly
Masayoshi Tanimura, a cop with his own sense of justice seeking answers for the death of his father.
Kiryu Kazuma, Star of the previous titles - the famed 'Dragon of Dojima' and former head of the prestigious yakuza branch known as the Tojo Clan.

First and foremost your enjoyment of this game will largely depend on whether or not you've experienced previous Yakuza titles, namely Yakuza 3. A lot of content is recycled from this previous instalment and not much has been done to expand on the gauntlet that Yakuza 3 threw down. If you enjoyed Yakuza 3 and wouldn't mind playing an extremely similar sequel then this game may very well be for you however. If you're new to the series then this shouldn't be a problem. Newcomers are also welcomed with an introduction to the series, revealing the plot of the previous three Yakuzas and bringing you up to date with a narrated cut-scene laden synopsis. Think of it as like speed-dating, but instead of a forty-something desperate accountant telling you about her cats it's a forty something mob boss telling you all the details of one of the most brutal and chaotic crime organisations on the planet. Also you don't have to buy him dinner.

In regards to gameplay, Yakuza's combat stands out as its most engrossing feature. I don't know about you, but I've always felt members of the Japanese mafia have too many teeth. This game is willing to change that. The player can perform brutal combos on swarms of mindless thugs easily and in style. Most importantly combat is handled  in a manner that's completely satisfying. You may get a sick sense of fulfilment from throwing a lit cigarette into the eyes of an arrogant ragamuffin, but that doesn't make you a bad person. Right? As you progress you'll also gain experience that can be used to obtain a number of unlockable combat techniques for each character, most of which involve some variation of stomping your opponents face into the ground with your foot. However, though combat is ultimately an enjoyable experience it may grow tedious as the player is forced into street fights every few seconds whilst going about their daily business. There are apparently a lot of people who don't like you in Tokyo and they aren't afraid to show it. Don't worry though, I think you're lovely. Sometimes.

There are actual batting cages in Kamorucho but batting thugs is far better.

 Though players are given the option of roaming around town to do as they please Yakuza is mainly a story driven game and it is this that can be seen as a double-edged sword. Whilst many of the characters are charming and likeable the story is somewhat convoluted. For example, often rival families will have grudges against each other but you wont necessarily be able to tell what families derive from which clan and which clan is led by who. Whilst there is an option to bring up a chart showing how each character is connected from the menu this doesn't excuse the fact that some revelations in the plot can leave you confused as to what just happened. Especially later in the game. There are however some stand-alone moments in the story that are really powerful and though the plot can cause confusion story-telling is consistently dramatic.

The way in which the story is presented is also simultaneously both a strong and weak point in Yakuza - often the game will switch between fully voiced (entirely in Japanese) cut scenes, which are rendered superbly, to voiceless text-box orientated scenes with canned animations. Sometimes the switch is seemingly random as well, with conversations starting off in cut scenes - switching to in game silent models - then going back into cut scenes. Scrolling through boxes of text waiting for the next portion of gameplay also subtracts from the pacing of more dramatic moments.

Pacing in general can be seen as an issue for Yakuza in fact, the player is given a plethora of different side-quests and mini-games but the urgency of the story never really makes it feel like you should take the time out to enjoy them. The fact that you can spend hours singing Karaoke when you're meant to be running to save someone in dire need can take away from the engrossing nature of the story. However, the variety and sheer amount of things to do in Tokyo's pleasure district is one of the games strongest assets. The player can visit gambling halls, restaurants, massage parlous, golf courses, hostess bars and arcades (to name just a few) and engage in copious amounts of activities. Some side-quests can be a bit tedious as you progress however, as most them culminate in brawl with generic thugs, the same generic thugs that you have been beating up for the entire game. None the less the city of Kamurocho feels bustling and alive with so many things to do. So put on your best shoes and paint the town red. With the blood of your enemies. Actually, it's probably best not to wear your best shoes for that.

Yakuza 4 delivers an odd package, it manages to portray a gritty and authentic portrayal of Japanese culture and crime whilst maintaining an aura of the surreal humour that Japan is known for. Whilst the story may be hard to follow you're sure to be drawn in by likeable characters and satisfying combat, and with so much to do in Kamurocho you'll be able to play for hours on end and lose yourself in it's world.   

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

Details from the next Assassin's Creed game have slowly been eeked out over the past week or so, almost like a type of virtual water-boarding. Except far more painful. Sort of. Finally however, the turtoresses' that are Ubisoft have taken us out from under cold, damp depths of mystery and confusion and have delivered the announcement of Assassins' Creed: Revelations - the next 'big' game in the critically acclaimed series that will continue Desmond's on-going story and finish off the journey of his ancestor Ezio. There is also some implication that the game will feature a re-emergence as Altair as a playable character.

Not much has been revealed about the title apart from Ezio, Desmond and Altair's return and that the new setting for the game is Constantinople (Istanbul) at the peak of the Ottoman Empire. It can also be assumed that stabbing, running and hiding/ seamlessly blending in groups of people dressed nothing like you will make a welcome return.

Don't fret at the lack of known information however, because , as we all know, speculation and wishing is as much of a solid grounding for information as fact. Thus I shall run through my wish list for Assassin's Creed: Revelations and the features I want included: (You know, other than some form of revelation(s))

People in the past should die

Ever since I finished Assassin's Creed II and grew a strong bond to the loveable florentine rouge that is Ezio Auditore da Firenze I've had one wish. That he would die. Not that he's a particularly annoying or badly created character, I've just always wondered what would happen to Desmond (voiced by the omnipresent Nolan North) if he had to experience death through the mind-tapping world of the Animus. Experiencing lives within a life has proved irksome for our young protagonist but outer-body - inner-body - past life- deaths would make for some interesting story-telling.  Like I've always said, everyone would be happier if more people just died. Or something along those lines.

Desmond brings it

Assassin's Creed II and it's sequel Brotherhood gave us a small taster of what Desmond was capable of. He can leap into piles of hay with seemingly no fore-thought of possible consequence like a pro. However, I would like to see him take a more active approach to his abilities - specifically in regards to busting heads. Throughout the entire of Brotherhood Desmond equipped himself with a hidden-blade, the perfect tool for some covert stabbing - however he did little more with it than pry open doors and cut loose threads off his gleaming white hooded jacket. Which I maintain was designed for a woman.

Modern day Assassins do some Assassin-ing

Danny Wallace is the critically acclaimed author of 'Yes Man'. He is also one of my favourite writers and humourists. On top of that he is also a deadly deadly assassin in Ubisofts virtual realm. Therefore I would like him, and all the other modern day Assassins, to stab something other than their keyboards with their boney, book-handling fingers. You can't always murder people with razor sharp, British dry wit Danny - pick up a knife and do some well deserved cold-blooded murder.

A boss that's actually a boss

Whilst I never tire of beating up well known elderly religious figures I feel the challenge is lost somewhat when this is the pinnacle of the game. Actual boss-fights against actual threats wouldn't go amiss in the Assassin's Creed series. Whilst this particular set of titles has never been famed for its difficulty an epic concluding boss-battle would be a welcome breath of fresh air in an otherwise desolate landscape of one hit killed, cold, lifeless bodies. Who that boss might be I have yet to decide however, perhaps given the setting of Istanbul...a giant turkey?

Desmond loses it

Throughout the series players have received several hints of a mysterious patient known as 'Subject 16' going mad and meeting a bloody end as a result of the Animus. Desmond's time with the machine at this stage must be adding up and I for one have always been curious to see how it's affecting his psyche. Dreams and hallucinations were briefly touched upon in the second instalment of the series but other then that Desmond has shown not even a hint of murderous, hate-filled, psychotic intent. The weird Bastard.

Repressed memories

One of my favourite features in Brotherhood was the inclusion of several of Ezio's repressed memories. These daunting insights into the events that forever changed the young, care-free mavericks life were a refreshing change to the staunch and hardened Ezio that was presented to the player in the main story. Maybe if we delve deeper into the memories of Desmond's ancestors we can get more of an insight into their character, perhaps we can even see all the birthday parties that Altair's father missed or some of Mario Auditore's infamous special hugs.

A little help here guys

Also a welcome inclusion for me in Brotherhood was the addition of a gang of Assassin compadres that could be called upon in your moments of dire need. However, this gang of hooded misfits ended up feeling more like an extra weapon as opposed to an ever-present assisting force - often Ezio would feel alone, even if he had hordes of deadly trained killers at his side. Perhaps members of the Assassin order need to be given more of a role and personality so we can truly appreciate their presence on the battlefield. It's always best to get by with a little help from your friends after all.

Those are just some of the features and mechanics that I wish would be expanded on in the newest instalment of Assassin's Creed. 'Revelations' is set to hit us, like a high-speed crossbow bolt fired from a nearby pile of hay, at the end of this year and will be a most likely improvement on the high standard set by previous titles in the series.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Mass Effect 3 - What We Know So Far

Do you long to punch journalists because of their disingenuous assertions? Or are you just waiting for your much thought about Krogan romance to come to fruition? Whatever your desires may be you wont have to wait much longer with Mass Effect 3 coming later this year.

That's right, Shepard is back once again and needs to urgently deal with the impending Reaper threat...once again. The new instalment sees everyone's favourite commander desperately trying to find allies to aid his noble cause - entire species this time mind you, not just individuals - whilst trying to fight off  both Cerberus, whom he seems to have fallen out with, and those who want him trialled for war-crimes.

What we know so far is that Mass Effect 3 will be the conclusion of the 'Shepard trilogy' and the players choices from the previous two games will have an effect - some small, whilst others may create bigger hurdles to leap over  (or crouch behind then leap over at least). It is also the first game to take place partially on Earth (that's where I'M from) with both London and New York being available as playable locations - both of course famous for their abundance of the chest high walls necessary for third person gameplay.

Returning to the series is the inclusion of Gameplay and improvements thereupon.  Combat movement, for example, has evolved - the ability to roll and leap over ledges has been added and cover mechanics have been polished. Melee attacks will also play a bigger role this time with each class having a unique method of dealing up-close damage. Finally Shepard will be able to reach down the throat of a Salarian and pull out their still beating heart. It is unknown at this time whether eating raw hearts will provide health bonuses however. Overall combat speed is said to have been increased by 10-15%  and the player can now pick up weapons that others have carelessly left on the floor. Tidying is fun. Weapon Modding also makes a return and every class will be able to wield every weapon (go equality!) - though they may not be able to hold them all at once.

Garrus' New Look
Returning to the Intergalactic fray team member-wise are Garrus, Liara, and Ashley or Kaiden - dependent on your choices from previous Mass Effect titles. A new squad-member by the name of James Sanders will also appear on the scene, an experienced human soldier unfamiliar with the true workings of the Galaxy. One can only hope that he will rise to become Colonel through his deadly use of 11 original herbs and spices. Other familiars such as Jack, Joker, Legion, Mordin and Wrex will also be returning - but not necessarily as squad-mates. Additionally any Romance delved into by the player will make an impact on the game with multiple relationships potentially having different consequences - and you were hoping Liara wouldn't find out about your secret love affair with Grunt.

Fan favourites Vehicles and Planet mining will be making a welcome return, along with the jamming a fork into your arm mini-game that accompanies them. Skill-trees for Shepard have expanded and skills can be 'evolved' multiple times. I assume that evolution of the 'charm' skill will result in a number of suggestive winks and nods being added to the conversation wheel for the player to work their way out of tricky situations - such as perturbing  a potential love interest or general conversation with the Illusive man or Wrex.

Mass Effect 3 will swing wildly out of orbit and crash into earth at the end of 2011 and is highly anticipated amongst the many fans of the series. Are you excited also? Or is Bioware's Sci-Fi epic not having a MASSive Effect on you?  

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dead Space - I'm Suffocating

Space is dark. In fact, it's not - the darkness of space doesn't even exist, it's merely an absence, of light, of emotion and of life. Space is simply not. It is both oppressive and liberating.

Thus it can be assumed that the setting of space within a game would be the most frightening of all. The player would be completely alone- with literally nothing surrounding them. Even the concept of nothingness is frightening for any human to comprehend - we have never experienced something that is void - the thought of something that is just not is difficult to grasp. This emptiness would be enough to wash the cold sweat of fear over the most hardened men.

Well, this would be the case if freaking necromorphs weren't constantly jumping out at me from every corner. This is what I don't understand about EA's 'Dead Space' for a game that is in essence a 'horror' in genre and set in the most remote of locations it fails to be even remotely frightening. The novelty of a brief startle is lost as quickly as the limbs of the mutated dead. Grotesque abominations continue to jump out at you from the same places, you start to expect their ambushes, and much worst, you begin to loathe them.

Whilst the game excels in making the player feel oppressed and heavy, you never really feel alone when surrounded by ravenous aliens - the silent and chilling atmosphere never really sinks in when the screen is constantly filled with frantic laser blasts, screams of pain and blood.

I've owned Dead Space for just under a year now and I can never bring myself to continue playing it long enough to reach completion - it never feels engrossing for me, by all means it's a solid game, it just lacks in it's main premise - fear. There's nothing particularly psychologically daunting about constantly being bombarded in the same way over and over, in fact you even get used to it. I'm sure even being shot would lose it's traumatising edge if it happened on the journey to school every day. Well, maybe.

There's less a fear of suffocating in the depths of space and more a fear of choking on the blood of the hordes of enemies you stamp into the ground. If anything 'Dead Space' would be better off telling the story of a disenfranchised space-ship worker with an overwhelming feeling of alienation because of his love of huge steel-souled boots who then grows to be an empowered confident young (wo)man. At least then the inclusion of a game mechanic where you effectively grind the big ever-present threat's skull into the ground would make sense in a game that's meant to instil terror.

I shall continue on however, perhaps the level where Isaac's emotional voyage into manhood becomes apparent is fast approaching.

Friday, 22 April 2011


I've always loved X-men, mainly because I was born with a super-human sense of irony and sarcasm. Also, whilst I was growing up I became quite fond of action Anime like Dragonball and Pokémon and the like. "If the protagonist has massive hair, I'm there!" was essentially my motto for entertainment - I didn't have many friends.

Today I discovered something wondrous on one of my many ventures out into the Internet. Someone had, in essence, blended my child-hood. Now, whilst that may sound highly traumatising and perhaps a little Roman Catholic-y, I assure you it's a brilliant development.

An X-men anime series. That's right, all the fun of grown men in spandex with 100% more awkward posing and screaming. Marvellous.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

In Defence Of Anders

The flames of controversy started burning after a perturbed 'fan' on Bioware's official forum commented that the creative giant's latest fantasy epic - Dragon Age 2 - ignored the game's core audience 'Straight Male Gamers'.

User 'Bastal' put forward the argument that instead of catering to the game's main audience, straight males, Bioware instead went for an all-inclusive approach in regards to romance options, accessible to all sexual orientations. Lead writer David Gaider responded to the accusations stating that romances were designed to cater for everyone and not just the "Straight Male Gamer". He put forward the ideal that Bioware should deliver an option for all rather then alienating any particular group.

The relationship most criticised by Bastal, and others who may have shared similar views, was that of Anders - an interest for both a Male and a Female protagonist. The main reason for criticism was that Anders would openly make his feelings for a male Hawke (the playable character) known in a way that some deemed uncomfortable.

Without spoiling too much of the game I will briefly describe the way in which Anders makes his feelings known. I will also draw a parallel with another Bioware game in which a heterosexual relationship was presented, which received no complaints.

Part way through the game the player will meet Anders, a rogue mage whom you need to befriend in order to continue your quest. In exchange for his services Anders will ask you to aid him on his own personal quest. Once said quest is complete - the climax of which is very emotional for the mage - Anders will subtly flirt with the playable character, be it male or female. The player can choose to respond in any way they deem fit and can, at this point, shoot down any possibility for a romantic relationship further into the game. If this is chosen no more flirting between the two will occur.

Now this open portrayal of emotion seems to be the main problem amongst critics of Anders' romance - the fact that he will make the first move, regardless of your gender. Thus, critics argued that the game as a whole alienates the straight male and the way romance was approached was done in a way to pander to the tastes of females or homosexual males. However I see several main problems with this argument, and they are as followed:

  • It is unreasonable to expect Bioware to deliver a believable and engrossing narrative (which many will agree is the strongest asset of their works) with no character outwardly making their feelings, romantic or otherwise known. Not only does this create a conflict within the portrayal of characters (For example strong and outspoken characters having to be coerced into reveal their feelings) but it also limits the varied quality of the romances encountered throughout the game.
  • Anders is NOT the only character to make his feelings known first, he may be the only male character to do so but Isabela (who can be romanced by both a male and female protagonist) does the same. Not only is this the case but Isabela is far more forefront in regard to her flirtation - even uttering the line "And I have a room at the hanged man (a tavern in game) if you're looking for company later" - not the most subtle of proposals you'll agree.
  • The open nature of sexuality seems to be something that coincides with the lore of the Dragon Age universe. In a similar fashion to the attitudes held by the ancient Greeks the world of Dragon Age doesn't appear to have the same social-stigma attached to same-sex relationships as the real world. Since Dragon Age: Origins players have been able to commit to such a romantic pursuits without any issues about morality or a need for feelings to be hidden being raised. It seems the same stigmas that may exist in part of the real world don't apply in the fantasy realm.

  • Another Bioware RPG 'Mass Effect 2' presents a remarkably similiar potential romantic pursuit, with no complaint (So I don't potentially spoil a second game I'll leave the details as vague as possible) A character by the name of Tali is helped by the protagonist during their adventures. She then develops an infatuation with the player-character that is made particularly obvious - a remarkably similar portrayal to that of Anders. However Tali is only a romance option available to a Male player - strictly heterosexual. This was never criticised.
  • A main point of Bastal's argument relied on the implication that straight males would only play as a straight male character. Though it is often the case that players of either gender play as the opposite sex from time to time - even taking advantage of  the romantic pursuits available. Thus the addition of non-heterosexual relationships doesn't necessarily alienate heterosexual gamers.

Thus I put forward the argument that Dragon Age 2 doesn't alienate the Straight Male Gamer, but instead panders to them and all orientations in full - for the sake of believable narrative and characters. Instead I think the problem that critics of this particular issue have is the idea of open homosexual expressions of love - maybe a thought too radical for some.

To read the original post from User Bastal : Visit here

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Hostess Bars in Yakuza 4

Absent from Yakuza 3 was the inclusion of hostess bars, Sega's reason for this was that western audiences would not understand just what a hostess bar was. That they don't.

With the recent release of Yakuza 4 Sega has decided that the west are now old enough to take every bit of niche Japanese culture that's humanly possible (and we're allowed to use the big-boy scissors too). This includes the aforementioned hostesses and the fine line they draw between sordid pass time and care-free frivolity.

Now, if you are unclear of what exactly a hostess bar is I shall explain. Essentially you pay a woman you don't know (or do know if you frequent these bars) to pour you drinks, light your cigarettes and pretend to be interested in what you're saying. There's a mild sense of flirtation and you share drinks and exchange light-hearted conversation but that's where it ends. There is a possibility of a date outside of the bar but that's not really "work"- Like going dancing with your cleaner or doing spirograph with a hooker, you could be potentially paying for it but it's different.

Thus Yakuza 4 gives you all the dirty feeling of having done something sordid without any of the hassle of actually doing anything. Something that many a western mind can't quite apprehend. Though a perfectly innocent pass time there's overtones of something morally dubious in Yakuza's hostess clubs. It's a feeling not totally dissimilar to  placing your genitals into a jar of peanut butter, it's your peanut butter to do whatever you want with, but it doesn't mean it's right.

As the player you can choose to under-take the hostess mini-game and pay extortionate amounts of your hard earned yen on having someone pretend to take an interest in you for a short period of time. There's also the possibility of receiving e-mails from said hostesses asking you to return as soon as you can and repeat the process. Eventually this can lead to dates where your players awkwardly exchange dialogue over expensive meals or drinks. Essentially, you build a relationship, via your wallet. The whole process of Yakuza 4's hostesses and it's portrayal of buying a relationship is a bit hard to comprehend - almost like a PG brothel, or going somewhere innocent like Disney-land then paying goofy to sleep with you. There's this ever-present aura of a gritty criminal underworld in these places and it's hard to be rid of.

This is probably a cultural gap, mind you, as a Japanese audiences' view of the whole affair would no doubt be far different to my own. Plus, it's only a small part of the game and not breaking from Yakuza 4's overall atmosphere of crime and grit.

Friday, 15 April 2011


Speculation is an odd thing, it grows and grows then eventually explodes in a massive PR miracle of an announcement. Almost as if someone had planted the original seed on purpose.

Wii 2 rumours are today's main speculatory egg just itching to explode into a huge mess of a arm-flailing, touch-screening, HDing ecstasy. Reports are coming in detailing leaks of the new hardware that reveal that this successor to the original wii will now run full HD and feature a new controller with touch screen.

Now gamers, not only satisfied with jerking their controllers around in questionable frantic motions will get to touch them in, what will no doubt be, highly awkward and embarrassing ways.

With actual 'fact' out of the way, I'd like to dip my hat into what I feel this new wII (geddit?) will offer.

  • 3D Capabilities, perhaps even 4D. I imagine by the time this console comes out technology will be so advanced that it can be present outside of time.
  • It will run on nothing but happy thoughts. Not yours mind you, but the company executives that have just fooled you into buying 'Nintendogs 5: Shitzus reloaded'
  • Wii sports resort 2 will involve you avenging the death of the dog you used to play Frisbee with and will revolve around your mii undertaking a gritty adventure through seedy bars. With adult themes.
  • The wii-board will be replaced with 2 wii-boards, one for each foot. Both will be required to play any wii 2 game. Both will be sold separately.
  • Half-life episode 3 will be released exclusively on the wii-2 with full crowbar motion control.
  • The wii-2 slim will be released simultaneously with the wii 2 as a time-saving mechanism.
  • We Date 2 will be the best selling game of 2012 due to the wii 2's enhanced motion control features.
  • Not only will the wii 2 babysit your kids but it will also raise them, in a way not totally dissimilar to leaving your child to a pack of wolves or lemurs.
  • Adverts for the wii 2 will no longer feature families in brightly lit rooms around a sofa playing together. However they will feature said families being laid to rest in a graveyard with new, more attractive families frantically mourning their deaths. In 3D.

Day. One. Purchase.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Recently a Japanese friend of mine bought a copy of 'Catherine', he gave an apt, in depth and well thought out description "horror, puzzle and hentai lol".

Now set to grace the shores of the US I doubt it will be long before Catherine comes to Europe and no doubt confuses our stoic British minds with it's overt sexuality and odd-ball horror.

The first game in history ever to reward players points based solely on the intensity of their erection Catherine tells the story of the young salaryman Vincent who I should now refer to solely as "that guy that something bad is going to happen to". In a state of purgatory between finding a path in life and finding love Vincent meets, you guessed it, Catherine, the outlandish and mysterious blonde who acts as the starting point for Vincent's descent into a world of death, demons and highly inappropriate moments of sexual tension in bars.

With his new found love interest comes a plethora of bad things and thus Vincent transforms from "that guy something bad is going to happen to" into "that guy who has nightmares of murderous sheep and has to platform his way through levels in order to survive". The natural progression, as you are well aware. By day Vincent must court Catherine and go about his normal daily routine of scrolling through static animation conversations, being badly dubbed and saving. By Night however, Vincent's nightmares become the playground for a whole host of weird platformer puzzles which he must traverse in order to continue his most frequent of hobbies, breathing.

Japanese reviews of the game have surfaced revealing 'Catherine' to have an intricate story which can take many different turns based on the players actions (a la sexy heavy rain). Difficulty has been cited a major issue in the Japanese version of the game but by the time it reaches western shores this is sure to be tweaked, though no one ever said being harassed in an ethereal realm between consciousnesses by demonic sheep-people would ever be easy, did they?