Sunday, September 25

The Waiting Game

This week I planned to hammer on about the awesomeness of Gears of War 3 however I haven't been to play it yet.

Instead, I've been playing the waiting game with JB Hifi. You see I was given a voucher two months ago and I figured their online preorder option was a convenient service, with free delivery being a big bonus.

I figured wrong.

Six days after release I'm still sitting in anticipation next to the letterbox. I'm hoping it will come tomorrow. In the mean time I'm stuck with friends talking about it on Facebook as well as feeds from the official Xbox Facebook page and info and ads at almost every turn on the web.

Furthermore, when it was ordered back in July, I paid $99 for it. When it was released last week, the standard edition was priced at $69. JB are yet to get back to me about refunding the price difference. The site claims to refund any price difference however in my case it's not a straight reimbursement to a credit card as I used a voucher which I no longer have. I'm hoping there will be another voucher in the package on Monday...if it arrives then.

The reason I'm so skeptical about speedy delivery is because I ordered two cds at the same time as Gears, without knowing the preorder offer was shithouse. The first cd came two weeks after its release. Initially the order was lost then after a complaint it was found and sent. The other cd is due Monday. Let's see if they can get one out of three correct.

The thing that annoys me the most is that it's JB Hifi. If it were Big W or Wow Sight and Sound I wouldn't be so disappointed but because it's JB and I'm a huge advocate for the business, this experience is really making me dislike them. I don't understand how a prominent Australian company can't get their act together and ensure timely and reliable delivery. If each store is able to have their copies for sale by the release date, why can't preorders be filled on or a day after release? Why is it taking six days for a package to be sent from Melbourne to Brisbane?

Anyway I've learnt my lesson and will now only purchase in store. Has anyone else had a poor preorder experience?

Thursday, September 22

The Bias Corner: Mass Effect

Welcome to the first of two super editions of the Bias Corner.

I would like to start by introducing myself to the uninitiated: I am Dutch’s brother, Victor. I have generally similar opinions to Dutch, but on some key titles we differ greatly. For example Mass Effect 2. When Dutch first mentioned Mass Effect 2 on this blog, it was listed as one of the biggest disappointments of 2010 along with Dead Rising 2. Now I’m not saying Dead Rising 2 was the best game of 2010, but it was enjoyable. I am however saying that Mass Effect 2 is the first game that I'd call "Game of the Year," for two years in a row (remember that the PS3 version was released this year).

I have completed Mass Effect and its sequel (now to be referred as ME & ME2) 36 times in total. I own this game on all possible systems – yes, even though I do not own a rig capable of playing PC games - I do own them on PC. The sheer amount of times I have completed these two titles is a testament to their greatness. ME captured audiences with a new space opera to rival already established IP’s like Star Wars and Star Trek. The game did not only create a character that you could mould with good, bad or neutral decisions, but gave you a cast of NPCs to care about. Paramount to this, it gave us a universe to learn about and shape with your decisions.

I’ve invested (this is an estimate) 900 hours in the ME universe. That’s 37 and a half days, 54,000 minutes, 3,240,000 seconds I've thrown into this game; hell, it nearly cost me my marriage. That doesn’t even include ME: Galaxy (the underrated iOS game), three novels and two comic book series that I have also played and read. And how could I forget my Bioware limited edition N7 commander Shepard hoodie? Do we see where I’m heading here?........Obsession!

I don’t want to write a review that rivals the script for both games in terms of length; I just want everyone to go out there and buy this game so that they can experience the rich lore and solid gameplay for themselves. You can pick up both titles for a combined price of $28 at EB (on the 360). I've decided to jump into this space because I believe that reviewers - including Dutch - won’t enjoy games how you enjoy games. As an example, Viking: Battle for Asgard: the game has a metarating of 68, but it is super enjoyable. Dutch gave Mass Effect 2 8.5/10. That figure does no justice to Bioware's masterpiece! No matter what is said about this franchise, I will continue to invest my time and money (here’s looking at you, Mass Effect 3 N7 Collector’s Edition for $129 each on both console platforms) into it; and I think as a service to yourselves, you should too.

Tuesday, September 20

Jetpack Joyride Review (iOS): A dangerous, well-oiled machine

Brisbane-based developer Halfbrick Studios have a reputation for creating addictive, if not shallow, gaming experiences for smartphones and tablet devices. Fruit Ninja has already stolen hours from me already, and the Kinect-controlled port also gifted me with a surprise back injury. Age of Zombies was easily the best PlayStation Mini that I've ever played and looks wonderful when blown-up on an iPad. That game's protagonist, Barry Steakfries makes his return in Jetpack Joyride; which abandons the gratuitous Simpsons quotes in favour of the developer's own brand of machine gun-themed slapstick humour. Are Halfbrick's comic chops enough to literally carry Steakfries' latest adventure?

The Good
Just one more - Jetpack Joyride is score attack gaming at its finest. There's no pretence or story holding players back from the action. Simply touch the screen and Barry breaks through a laboratory wall to steal away to - what hopefully is - a new high score. Your score is measured in metres travelled, but there are other peripheral indicators of success. You can collect coins to unlock cosmetic upgrades and single-use power-ups, and you're also issued with sets of three "missions" which task you with anything from high fiving scientists to travelling a certain distance with any of the game's six vehicles. You may be confined to a singular, oft-recycled environment, but you'll often go back for "just one more" attempt.

Violent, vehicular whimsy - As you're avoiding obstacles in the titular jetpack - or any of the aforementioned vehicles - I'd challenge you to do so without a sadistic grin on your face. Raining bullets on hapless scientists, trampling them with the Lil' Stomper, or burning them with Mr Cuddles (a robotic dragon) is nothing short of a responsive joy. The retro-flavoured visuals were also cause for delight and - despite the lack of variety - only added to the game's charm. 

Deeper than your dollar's worth - Jetpack Joyride costs less than a dollar, and the many variables presented in any given playthrough is sure to give you more enjoyment than you deserve; given the asking price. The "Final Spin" also adds value to your current run or sets you up for the next one, with the macabre slot machine offering the ability (luck and spin tokens permitting) to be revived, earn extra coins, or cause a blast of varying intensity to carry your corpse a little bit further (thus adding to your score). When you run out of Spin Tokens and you're life comes to an end, you're presented with a happy snap from your latest adventure and statistics - both run-specific and lifetime - to chart your performance. There's also leaderboards for you to compare scores amongst friends and the community at large. That's a respectable amount of content and functionality given the asking price.

The Bad
Wretched score - The singular piece of original music in Jetpack Joyride is more exhausting than elevator music and doesn't really match the black comic sensibility of the action on screen. This can be made a null point by simply playing your own music while running the game, but still, fairly underwhelming considering the addictive qualities of the play and presentation.

The Ugly
Coursework - While the obstacle course you face on each attempt is dynamic, the lab facility motif is a constant, and I imagine that could grow tiresome in time. There is the potential for the developer to add new settings in the future, but you'll need to be happy with the subterranean lair for now.  

Get used to seeing the lab... a lot
The Verdict
Jetpack Joyride is another strong effort from Halfbrick, and even if you aren't sucked in by the addictive action and charming visuals, it costs less than a buck. Give it a go, people!

Monday, September 19

Enough room to swing a gyroscopic cat

I've recently had the good fortune of attaining a secondment in my job; you know, the one that actually earns me money? The work is what I can stomach doing if it can't be writing about games and be putting bread on the table. There's just a few problems with the arrangement (apart from the fact that the assignment finishes in a few days):
  • The four hour commute: as many as two trains and two buses each way, which are each usually packed to the rafters with folk of all persuasions, sizes and scents.
  • The necessity of sleep: I leave the house early and I get home late, meaning that I don't have the time or energy to play games on home consoles or PC during the week. I usually have enough time to eat and Facebook (it's a verb now) before I need to hit the hay.
  • Nerd vision: I should be over this by now, but I still can't stomach the way people look at me when I play a dedicated portable gaming device. "WHAT A NERD!!!" their judging eyes scream at me from across the carriage.
I managed to find a cure for two of my three ailments: the iPad.
People see me playing something as "core" as Final Fantasy III and I see that their expressions change to mean the following:
  • You spent eight hundred dollars to play games that would be better articulated on a handheld console, and I respect that
  • You may be playing games on Apple's gift to humanity as well, but I have a leather case, so mine is better
  • APPLE FTW $%#KERS!!!
  • I can't tell if you're viewing an important report or casting spells for massive damage. All I know is: I want to get my hands on your tablet.
I should clarify that the above observations are null and void if I play games with gyroscopic controls. Some of the looks I received while playing Dead Space HD suggested that I may have been inebriated, suffering from an inner-ear infection or violating some of my fellow travellers' personal space. It may have had something to do with me not dealing particularly well with survival horror situations, but I was sweating, tilting and tapping like a madman. The people sitting next to me probably had every right to believe something was not quite right with me, even if I was just fighting for my life.

This seat is taken!

It was time for a change of pace I thought. Time for something a little less panic-inducing. Real Racing 2 HD was the next game of choice, but it called for more tilting, which in turn led to more incidental bumps for my fellow passengers and more apologies on my part.

Ultimately, I've settled for Final Fantasy III. I may be somewhat allergic to the JRPG grind, but at least I'm not making physical contact with complete strangers anymore. Better yet, I'm getting those - at times - lustful glances from the general public as I play on my thoroughly-desirable machine.

Don't worry, I'll be fine.

Can you bear the judgement of your fellow travellers? How do you game on the go?

Saturday, September 17

Portal is free on Steam until September 20!

Dear Readers,

Just a quick FYI - according to Gamespot, Portal will be available as a free download via the Steam Storefront until September 20.

I can't say for sure whether the offer is valid for Australians (as I've previously purchased the game), however, Kotaku AU has verfied the story.

If you haven't played the game before, I would urge you to take the plunge. It's not like it will cost you anything!

Have a good weekend. What are y'all playing?



Friday, September 16

First impressions of Body Count (X360) - Count My Disappointments

To be honest I had heard very little about Body Count. It popped up in the Xbox Live demos and seemed worth a crack. Unfortunately it was not the shooter I was looking for.

Although it has some redeeming features such as destructible environments and an arcade feel to it as you collect glowing icons from the battlefield, the negatives are far more memorable.

The first thing I noticed was that the cross hairs did not line up with the barrel if the rifle. This made combat uncomfortable and foreign as I'd place the sight of my weapon on my target but end up shooting to the left of the enemy instead of through his face.

Secondly, the absence of a crouch action was sorely missed. Whilst a player can take cover and lean left or right using the triggers, it's not the same. I felt like I was out in the open and doing a dance or Matrix style dodge during combat. The middle of an African coup is not the time to get down and boogy.

Thirdly, it's very sluggish. Your character moves but not quickly and doesn't react well. For a highly trained operative you'd think he'd be willing to move with some pace and agility.

Finally, I couldn't really connect with the story. Maybe it was the demo (and therefore lack of documentation etc to set the scene) but Body Count didn't capture my attention like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Rainbow Six, or Halo did.

The graphics are acceptable but nothing mind blowing however the biggest plus is definitely the destructible environments. With the first mission being to eliminate an African militia in a shanty village, there are various objects such as barrels and traps for you to use. Additionally, the shanties are no sturdy structure so you can shred right through them and carry on killing.

That said, if you're looking for action and an ever changing battlefield you are better off grabbing a copy of Bulletstorm or better yet, Gears of War (which, coincidently, GoW 3 is released next week - get excited!)

Have you played any good shooters lately? Will you be starting one this weekend?

Wednesday, September 14

How did Dead Island defy the classification Ban Hammer?

The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) has done it again. Their decision to bestow Dead Island with an MA15+ rating - and as a result, green-light it for sale in Australia - has left me confused in light of some of its more recent bungles.

In the hope that you'll understand my bewilderment, I'll show quotes from OFLC reports for games that were previously refused classification and compare them to some screenshots from Deep Silver's zombie RPG.
The use of the "melee" weapons can wipe out several Infected in one blow which cause the above mentioned blood and gore effects. The player kills a very large amount of enemy characters to proceed through the game. Whilst no post mortem damage can be inflicted, piles of bodies lay about the environment.
Excerpt from the OFLC report detailing reasons why Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification (care of

In the six hours that I've spent playing Dead Island, I've fired three bullets. Three! Almost every zombie that I've killed has been bludgeoned or cut with a melee weapon; and my word is it graphic. Sure, the effects may not be overly convincing, but the level of gore is far greater than that seen in the original Left 4 Dead. Worse than that, you can actually inflict post mortem damage on zombie corpses, as below:

Before hammer facial

After hammer facial

As for the "piles of bodies" comment:

Slow day...
However, it is the use of the "melee" weapons such as the crowbar, axe, chainsaw and Samurai sword which inflict the most damage. These close in attacks cause copious amounts of blood spray and splatter, decapitations and limb dismemberment as well as locational damage where contact is made to the enemy which may reveal skeletal bits and gore.
Another excerpt from the OFLC report detailing reasons why Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification (care of

Here's some of my handiwork using my trusty "Flimsy Diving Knife."

You may care to disagree, but there's a fair bit of "blood spray" in the image that I captured above. "Locational damage" and "skeletal bits and gore" are also readily apparent. I'm curious as to how the violence depicted in Left 4 Dead 2 would've had a lesser impact than that shown in the shots I've taken. I can't say for sure that I would've been less affected by the violence in Valve's zombie shooter sequel, as I've never played the uncut product; what I do know is, the action that I've seen in Dead Island covers all of the criteria that got L4D2 banned.  

Now let's have a look at a more recent example, House of the Dead: Overkill Extended Cut. As reported by Kotaku AU:
“The “Hardcore” game mode allows players to play in a manner that exceeds strong in impact,” claims the report, “engaging a headshot-only mode which results in frequent, detailed blood and gore as the zombies and mutants heads explode into bloody pieces that spread around the environment and onto the screen.
While I'll concede I haven't burst any skulls with a gun (yet), you can burst many a zombie's frail skull with blunt objects in Dead Island. You can refer to the hammer facial above if you want explicit proof, but take my word for it: I've popped scores of heads in a game that was cleared for release by the OFLC. If anything, I'd argue that the damage that players can inflict on live opponents and on corpses post mortem would cause as much impact as SEGA's banned light gun shooter.

I'll finish with sorest wound on the 2011 Australian release schedule, Mortal Kombat. Once again from Kotaku AU:
At the conclusion of a bout, a character is invited to perform a ‘finishing move’ or ‘fatality’. To perform a fatality, a player has to push a series of button combinations within a short period of time. If this is successfully accomplished, a non-interactive cut scene is triggered which depicts a character explicitly slaughtering their opponent.
While non-interactive violence and gore can be viewed often in Dead Island - with zombies attacking NPCs and feasting on random corpses - if you would like to see some explicit slaughter: all you need to do is spam the right trigger. No context-sensitive button combinations are required for scenes like this:

Stop! Zombie Hammer Time!

Should I stop now before another game is banned in Australia? Can anyone enlighten me as to whether Left 4 Dead 2 features violence that is of a higher level of "impact"?

  1. Games Censorship: Left 4 Dead Series -
  2. Why Mortal Kombat was refused classification -
  3. This is why House of the Dead: Overkill - Extended Cut was refused classification -

Monday, September 12

The Grey Guide

Note: Some of these vendors employ region-specific pricing; so I can only vouch for the benefits that these sites provide for Australian consumers.

I buy a lot of games. For anyone who has been reading my work for a sustained amount of time, this may have been obvious: but I wanted to state for the record that a great deal of my income is spent on videogames and the odd peripheral. My loving wife has long been supportive of my habit, but when I pause and reflect on the last few years, it's almost scary to think how much cash that I've shelled out on anything from latest releases to dust-collecting consoles and peripherals (Wii and Kinect: I'm looking at you). New releases for consoles can cost three figure sums, and the price of collector's editions can be as much as a console!  

Thankfully, I discovered some legal means of reducing this expenditure; and by reduce, I mean save as much as half on each game that I buy. I'm not buying a smaller quantity of games, mind you: just getting more for about the same amount of money. Grey importing and online retail have allowed for me to enjoy all of the latest games - and in some case, tech - for a fraction of the price. I thought that I'd share a few sites that I swear by, as well as those that require some careful consideration before jumping in:


·    ozgameshop ( These guys have never done me wrong. Based in the UK, they offer games and peripherals for all current consoles and portables for a fraction of the Australian retail price. If you're happy to wait a few weeks or months after release, you can pick up some genuine bargains on collector's editions and other unnecessary - but somehow necessary - items. Orders usually take about two weeks to reach Australia, and their response to email queries is always prompt; so you'll never lose sleep wondering what happened to your hard-earned cash. Free postage is offered on all orders and prices are displayed in Australian dollars.

·    Steam ( Some speak of Steam as though it is a great evil than cannot be trusted. I look at Steam as a paid-for Christmas that arrives with daily, mid-week, weekend and seasonal promotions that can't be bested by any retailer on this list. Sure, you can moan about how the game is never truly yours, but twenty-seven dollars for all three Assassin's Creed games was enough for me to dismiss any argument against Valve's eCommerce monster. The only downside is the occasional - becoming frustratingly more frequent - instance of "region pricing," where publishers opt to charge a higher price to Australian users. Ninety-nine US dollars for Modern Warfare 3 is just plain greedy Activision: with or without the free copy of CoD4. All prices are displayed in US dollars.

·    Play Asia ( Another provider of great repute, Play Asia sell everything from consoles to action figures. They sell different region copies of each new release, so provided that you don't mind Chinese text on your box art, you'll often be able to save even more. If you're buying games for region-locked consoles, the individual product listings will advise whether games are compatible with your console (3DS  and Wii games are a no-go, AAA 360 releases are often region free). While you have to pay for postage, there are options for every budget and level of mania. By this I mean that I always shell out the extra dough for FedEx delivery (which takes about three days to reach you). Play-Asia's customer service team respond to enquiries quickly and amending/cancelling orders is easy as pie. All prices are displayed in US dollars.

·    Green Man Gaming ( This site offers Steam keys for PC games and - in some cases - also allow for games to be played via their own downloader, Capsule. They usually offer fifteen percent off pre-orders and also regularly distribute vouchers which can take as much as an additional twenty percent off their already low prices. For some older titles, there is even the ability to trade-in your digital copy. I've never used the system before, and the trade in values aren't great, but it is another way to save even more dosh. They don't have an expansive range, but they are signing up more publishers, and offering more games with each passing week. For Australian customers, all prices are displayed in US dollars.

·    The Hut ( Now I've only shopped once with this site, but the transaction was extraordinary. I ordered Dungeon Siege III (X360) for just over twenty bucks. My game didn't arrive within the designated timeframe, and all I had to do was notify their courteous team for a replacement to be sent out. No fuss, no extra conditions, no probing questions: better service than you'd receive at any brick-and-mortar store. They have regular specials and "two for" promos that are well worth checking out. I should note that they also sell brand name clothes, toys, DVDs and Blu-Rays as well. No charge for postage, and all prices are displayed in GBP.

Buyer Beware (but still worth a look)

·    CDKEYSHERE ( This site sells CD keys for Steam, Origin, GFWL and more at certifiably-insane prices. "How insane?" I hear you ask. How about Warhammer 40K: Space Marine for 25 US dollars? That crazy enough for you? It was batty enough for me to jump, grabbing Call of Duty: Black Ops for less than twenty bucks as well; but then I read the fine-print. No problems with Space Marine, but Black Ops was another kettle of fish. It was the Russian version, and if I wanted to redeem the key, I needed to have a Russian VPN, or give these guys my Steam login: neither was on the cards. Thankfully, after a minimum of fuss, they gave me a refund, but this served as a powerful lesson: read the fine-print!

·    G2Play ( I haven't used these guys yet, but it looks as though they are running a similar operation to CDKEYSHERE. Read the fine-print, people!
A quarter of the retail price? Surely you jest, my Lord.

Any vendors of choice that I may have missed? Do you buy online, or are you still a bricks-and-mortar player?

Important, potentially-heartwarming, Dutch note: Congratulations to regular Friday contributor, Dawson on his brand-new bundle of joy, Bradley David. Best wishes to Tim, Sherri, Libby and the newest addition to the Dawson family!

Saturday, September 10

Return of a Klassic

I feel like such an old man right now. The return of classic games is making me say things like, "I can't believe [insert old game here] has been remade" and then I get really excited over the crappy/seemingly try-hard graphics of yesteryear.

This time I'm excited about Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection. Only 800 MSP (or circa $10 on PSN edit: currently not available on AU PSN) it brings the glorious crap of the '90's direct to your console. In one simple download you can add Mortal Kombat 1, 2 and 3 to your collection and relive your forgotten youth.

For me it's been about 18 months since I last played a Mortal Kombat title (MK vs DC Universe) but before that it was years and I probably haven't played the original since it's inception. The nostalgia and memories it stirred up from the moment I selected each game was amazing. Everything from the backgrounds to the mountain all came flooding back to me. It was also nice to be able to play with, and past, Liu Kang (after i modified my copy I had issues with it. I somehow lost the file that showed Liu Kang and when ever he was due to fight, the game would crash).

Anyway, the graphics are inspiring. Rather than the highly rendered masterpieces of today or the artistic and beautiful animations of the Street Fighter series, Mortal Kombat appears to be photos of people throwing kicks and punches then strung together to form a coherent sequence.

Overall it's a pleasure to play, even the menus are impressive. Rather than just select text to allow you to choose which title you want, you rotate through the images of the arcade machines each game was originally played on. It's a cool reminder of where the games started and ties in nicely with xbox live arcade.

Demos are available now allowing you to sample the awesomeness of each game. When did you last play Mortal Kombat?

Wednesday, September 7

3DS Ambassador Program fails to ease tension with early adopters

I concede that I'm making an assumption with the headline: I'm sure that there are some who are happy with the first batch of downloadable freebies that Nintendo has thrown to those who purchased a 3DS before August 12. The list started off promisingly enough: Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Ice Climbers were some of the first revealed in the lead up to the system's unprecedented - though arguably necessary - price drop. Then days before the program was set to launch, I was slapped with the rest of them.
Wrecking Crew, NES Open Golf, Mario & Yoshi...... how do these "classics" make up for the failed launch of the 3DS? They don't; and don't think that this was Nintendo's only jab at their loyal consumer base before all was said and downloaded.
Time has not been kind to this mediocre puzzler
The selection of titles was underwhelming, but I still had to download them before I could have a proper moan. Directions appeared on a great many gaming sites with some inconsistencies mixed in to make matters worse. Before I knew it, some even started claiming that the titles were live (to be fair, most of these were US sites and PAL territories have oft been known to get the short end of the stick). I clumsily opened my dusty portable and connected to the eShop, only to find that my nostalgia fix would go wanting. It didn't matter whose instructions I followed: no luck. It was September 1, where were my free games? It was September 1 here in Australia, but not in other territories: why were these lucky bastards indulging before I could!?
Later that night they finally appeared, but anticipation was to be replaced with frustration. After fumbling through the menus to start each download, I would then be ejected to the main menu after each game was received. I had to go through this process more than ten times so I could get my Ambassador Certificate as well. This was the thanks I got for spending an extra hundred dollars and enduring the worst console launch lineup in history? Please, allow me to raise my middle finger and aim it square at Nintendo.

While Super Mario Bros has aged immaculately, the truth is, not one of the other nine peace offerings is worth loading up (I should clarify that I am not a Zelda fan and still believe that Ocarina of Time is the most overrated game of all time). Worse yet, these emulations do not allow for use of the "Restore Point" feature that allow you to save and load games (and thus, repeat frustrating sections of play) on a whim. This is not what I signed up for!
This is not enough to buy my silence!
Worst of all was the revelation that the to-be-released Game Boy Advance reparations would receive even less support in terms of emulation. Forget about Restore Points: you can't even put the system to sleep when playing these games. Close the lid and nothing will happen. Who at Nintendo thought that this stripped-down compensation would appease anyone? It turns out that there is a reason that these GBA games won't be released to the general public: you'd be foolish to pay for them!
It's been months since I purchased a game on the 3DS, and Nintendo's half-assed attempt at an apology hasn't helped things. I'm not going to trade in this glorified paperweight because - let's face it - it's worthless anyway. Who knows, maybe Kojima can save the day with the release of Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater? Maybe Nintendo will clean up its act and clean up the GBA ports that are still forthcoming?

What are your thoughts on the 3DS Ambassador Program? Am I just an ungrateful troll?
  1. Nintendo AU - Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program:
  2. Kotaku - How Nintendo 3DS Ambassadors Can Download Their Free NES Games:
  3. Bitmob - News Blips: 3DS gets ambassadorial, BioWare's new game, Modern Warfare 3 Hardened Edition, and more:

Monday, September 5

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review (PC) - Design of the Decade

Until late last year, I'd never played any of the previous instalments of the Deus Ex series. I picked up both of Human Revolution's predecessors during one of Steam's delirium-inducing digital fire-sales after tiring from the numerous, pretentious rants that I'd read discussing the importance and influence of the original. Ten years after its release, however, proved to be too late for me to discover its magic. What I saw was ugly and unapproachable. I didn't even think to load up the sequel, Invisible War after that eyesore. Instead - shallow man that I am - I waited for the latest iteration, with enticing art direction and most importantly, rendered with all of the grandeur and beauty that I've come to expect from modern hardware. Read on to find if a prettier Deus Ex is more approachable or, at the very least, playable. 

The Good
Crack gaming - Deus Ex: Human Revolution is straight-up addictive. There's no sugar coating or sidestepping the fact: this game will cause you to lose sleep. Whether it was agonising over my next augmentation, wondering if I played that last conversation the right way, or getting lost in futuristic Heng Sha: I found it genuinely difficult to put my controller down and walk away. Even now after having completed the game, I still find myself going back to sneak up a storm.
Illuminating tale - Core to the game's addictive quality is its brilliant story that pushes to you question whether self-controlled evolution is the future of mankind or a propellant toward its demise. The central characters are all voiced expertly and some - like Pritchard - have an enjoyable chemistry with Jensen that evolves throughout the adventure. You can approach the story at your own pace and - in what I see as a master stroke - you're not obliged to experience it all. Not that I can see why one wouldn't want to comb through each of Detroit's dangerous streets and alleyways, but it's great that the game gives you the choice all the same. To give you an idea how deep the rabbit hole can really go, I highly recommend this piece from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I found myself nodding enthusiastically in agreement.

Summon the funicular - Human Revolution's environments are dripping with cyberpunk intrigue. There may be a bit of recycling at play, but locations like The Hive and Picus Station are memorable and demand to be explored. I'm now halfway through my second playthrough and it's amazing how many new locations and conversations that I've found thanks to a different approach and a compulsion to collect everything. The various mechs, vehicles and augmented humans that you encounter are also impeccably rendered and designed. While not the most technically impressive release of the year, I challenge anyone to think of a game with more pleasing art direction. 

Who's your daddy? - Human Revolution's many influences are obvious, however, they are all treated with respect and in some cases, carried out better than in the source material. Conversations in this game aren't as frequent as they are in Mass Effect, but their outcomes are more ambiguous. The logs and literature don't contribute to the pervading sense of dread and calamity as effectively as those found in Bioshock, but they do give you a greater idea of the geopolitical landscape of the future Earth that Adam Jensen inhabits. The stealth mechanics are more fluid and forgiving than those from Metal Gear Solid 4, and discovery isn't tantamount to what the Penny Arcade team once described as sliding down a "shit-greased chute" for inept players. Human Revolution is a smoothie comprised of my favourite games.

Go your own way - I tried to go through the game without taking a life, but there was a time that I felt as though my hand was forced towards lethal weaponry. Not that I had to engage my foes, rather I decided that I couldn't walk away from this particular situation. After fifteen hours of using stun guns and my fists, I had to unleash the beast; or beasts as it were. Shotguns, revolvers, lasers, retractable blades: never has abandoning my principles been so much fun. The varied arsenal and tactics available to players affords a freedom that is almost paralyzing and there's more than enough to find and trial across multiple playthroughs.

Budgeting - I lost hours agonising over how to spend praxis points. Should I upgrade my strength to be able to punch through walls (in hindsight, yes!) or invest in my reflexes so that I can takedown two thugs at once? These choices are once again, a reason to lose sleep. A reason to keep you coming back and slaving away for more experience points. There were several times when I'd bought an upgrade only to then find an obstacle seconds later that could only be tackled with an augmentation that I'd opted to leave for the time being. This game taunted me on many an occasion, yet I still want more!

The Bad 
Corn bread - Last year, I commented that the voice-acting in Just Cause 2 was so heavily set on stereotypes that it was almost offensive. Human Revolution also features some regrettable voice direction with some African-American characters sounding like throwbacks to Gone with the Wind. Some Asian characters who speak in English are scripted with intentional syntax errors. I'm not saying that every Chinese hooker is going to speak English as though it was their first language, but at times it sounds forced and unnecessary.

Who's the boss? - As I've detailed in a previous post, the boss fights in Human Revolution felt alien when compared to the rest of the experience. They were often unforgiving and - worst of all - almost incompatible with players who choose espionage-flavoured augmentations (this Penny Arcade comic sums my experience up perfectly). One of these encounters can be made drastically shorter - to the point of farce - if you invest in the typhoon augmentation. The final two boss encounters actually bordered on enjoyable thanks to some of the choices I had made earlier in the game. It's a mixed bag for sure.

The Ugly
A litany of minor errors - As polished as the core action is, you'll come across a great many slight inconsistencies that can serve to lessen the sense of immersion you'll feel throughout the game. As per my lastpost, NPCs are sometimes completely unaware of some pretty big indiscretions that you'll carry out in plain view. There are also some big questions that certain play mechanics raise over sustained play:
  • How come I need to rest for as long as twenty seconds before I can punch another enemy (or civilian)?
  • Why would I upgrade my battery's recharge ability if it has no effect on depleted cells?
  • If I'm so advanced, how come I can only sprint for the in-game equivalent of five metres?
  • How come I can't fall a painfully-short distance without dying?

These are all petty in the grand scheme of things, but you'll easily get twenty hours plus out of this game, and such illusion-shattering queries are unavoidable (I'd strongly recommend you check out Bitmob's Mike Minotti's illustrated take on some of the game's flaws). For example, once I'd saved a game when I was sitting on top of an awning that was suspended about two metres above a tiny landscaped garden. Trying to engineer a non-lethal drop to said garden cost me more lives than all but one of the boss fights combined. I couldn't then reconcile the following ten minutes of goon smashing because if I couldn't survive falling from a one storey building, how could I cop a few bullets to the chest and still live to tell the tale? Sometimes, it's the small things that really detract from an experience.

The Verdict

There are scores of minor flaws and wrinkles that one would find in any given play through of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but after thirty hours of well written - though not always well-delivered - dialogue, slick stealth gameplay and varied locations, I'm still hooked. This game has sunk its augmented claws into my skin and I can't escape. Better yet, I don't want to escape. I'm happy to have a crack at every achievement, every weapon, every air duct and anyone that looks at me sideways.

Saturday, September 3

First impressions of Driver: San Francisco (X360)

I’ve been a fan of the Driver series since its inception in 1999 and have been looking forward to the newest installment for some time. When the demo became available on XBL, you can bet my sweet arse I was downloading it as fast as my poor connection would let me.

The series has always been easy to follow – in most cases you are Tanner, an undercover police officer with a talent for driving and getting yourself out of any situation. Driver 1 and 2 were (visually) basic with Driver 3 upping the anti and bringing more aesthetics to the table. It was also the first to introduce motorbikes to Tanners skill set. Driver Parallel Lines was a little odd and the most violent of the series and didn’t actually continue on with the adventures of Tanner.

Taking place soon after Driver 3, Tanner has recovered from past events and has tracked his nemesis, Jericho, to San Francisco. Jericho is soon arrested, but after an accident during a prison break, Tanner is put into a coma, which is where much of the game takes place.

More cinematic than previous installments, the first mission (demo game play) explains the newest trick in Tanner’s comatose-state arsenal; shifting bodies. Essentially, Tanner now has the ability to leave his body and take control of any one in the vicinity.

This is an interesting concept and one that I was dubious about at first, but now that I’ve trialed it, I can already see the potential story arcs and how it will work well. It’s not confusing or difficult and as long as the ‘shifting’ missions are relevant, it should add some good value into the game. If it’s an overused gimmick, I won’t be impressed.

As with Driver 3, I found the physics and actual driving a little hard to pick up at first. Granted I’m a little rusty at racing games, but I crashed a lot more than usual. It’s not odd for me to need a little time to get acclimatized to the controls so I can’t criticize too much.

As for the scripting, the demo was top notch, being a good indication for the final product. The writing and witty remarks about my ‘outstanding’ abilities behind the wheel didn’t get old within seconds. Tanner’s smart-arse comments once shifted into another person’s body are also priceless (at times).

All in all I’m keen to find some time to get to know Tanner again and tear up the streets of San Francisco. Driver: San Francisco  is available now on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC and Mac.

Have you seen or played Driver:SF or it’s demo? What are your thoughts?