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?