Wednesday, December 10

Year 4: Places in our heart

Eiffel Tower
Textbook romantic hit
High places
Tears shed at its peak

The never ending street
Solemn house
Near my ancestral home

Floating high, sinking city
Nona's room
German tennis channel

New friends and love affirmed
Clear water
Loose Brits, sacred centre

Endless white halls, bright lights
Piss and tears
Moaning, it eats you whole

Gold Coast
We never quite fit in
Glitter strip
City of sun, no soul

Always knew it was here
In the heart of Melbourne

Sunday, November 30

Warm Sound

You begged me to listen
I gave in for need of distraction
Last night our hero cried

The ceaseless echo
A sound dispelled the legend
We saw him bleed like us

I played it over menial tasks
Like a party at a haunted house
He reverberated through walls

The songs were warm
My arms melted in waves of grief
Crashing as tracks changed

For days the album repeated
To drown out the sound of his howling
Without it I wouldn't recover

Sunday, November 23

Escape clause

History repeats 
Change of scenery 
The outcome doesn't change

Roll again
I'll leave the room
I know where my pieces lie

Stern words
Offer assistance
Talk is always cheap

Heavy and distant
Thought I knew despair
The definition evolves with time

It floats
Weightless and silent
It stalks, it pounces, it steals oxygen

Sunday, November 9

Shovel Knight Review (3DS): Love and wealth in the Time of Shovelry

Disclosure: a downloadable copy of the game was supplied by Yacht Club Games for the purpose of this review.

Shovel Knight. Let's talk about Shovel Knight. 

I was aware that its development was funded through Kickstarter and that Yacht Club Games had run into trouble with our baffling classification system, but there were plenty of other games for me to worry about. Games that were getting released; on current gen systems no less, with all the bells, whistles and million dollar budgets that such platforms demand. I didn't think that yet another retro-themed 2D platformer was anything to get excited about. 

Now I know what Australians were missing out on. Now I know I should've been outraged that bureaucracy slowed the release of legitimate classic.

Shovel Knight's inspirations are many, but are not confined to hardware of decades past. The magic system is reminiscent of the Castlevania games.  The themed levels, boss knights and colour palettes are reminiscent of older Mega Man titles. Death is handled in a way that is arguably similar to, though far less frustratingly than the (Demon, Dark) Souls series. The overworld map and encounters are strikingly similar to Super Mario Bros 3. 

That's how I see it at least. The developers may have been hoping for comparisons to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, or some other hallowed eight to sixteen bit franchise? Either way, this is one of those rare games that manages to hang with the legends it seeks to emulate.

The first level provides subtle hints that there's more to Shovel Knight than straight platforming and enemy smashing. Before long, jumping puzzles requiring near perfect execution become standard. It won't take long to discern exactly what's required to get to your destination, but identifying the solution is, sometimes, not even half the battle. Relics can help you avoid or mitigate some hazards, but there's no surviving lava or bottomless pits. 

Thankfully, checkpoints are mercifully well placed in all but some of the later levels. Dying at the hands of flying foes and mistimed jumps is usually only cause for minor frustration. 

Boss fights are varied and death never comes cheaply. Purchasing upgrades to health and magic make these battles more manageable, but that's not to say that they become walk-overs either.  You're also able to challenge wanderers and bandits that roam throughout the overworld map. One of the more difficult encounters doesn't even need to be attempted for you to complete the main story, but I strongly recommend that you wander off the beaten path.

Fiends and friends are all beautifully-rendered and whimsically written. There's one character in the first village that I always stopped to impress every time I came for supplies. Even though his response to my action was almost completely identical each time, I chuckled at this townsperson's genuine awe at my shovelling abilities. Everyone from the most evil of nights, to the most obsessive of hat salesmen has a killer line that had me laughing out loud, or smiling at the very least. 

The in-game economy is fascinating, if slightly forgiving, and provides ample reason to go searching for hidden treasure. Throughout most levels you can find travelling salesman offering powerful relics for a modest price. The villages offer various opportunities for commerce, allowing players to purchase new armour, attacks and other upgrades. There's even games of skill hidden throughout the more friendly areas of the map. I bought all that I needed to to survive, but Indare say I'll need to save up for some better armour for that New Game Plus run. 

Looking over the list of feats (achievement, trophies, what have you), it became apparent to me that I hadn't even scratched the surface. There were relics that I hadn't used at all, or whose proper application I was yet to discover. That may be an indication that certain items are overpowered or overly useful, or that I clung to the familiar. 

I only have a few complaints, and my are they minor ones. The StreetPass Arena is the definition of 'unnecessary': you record three, five second ghosts that collect treasure and race against any rivals you happen to pass. My first and only race ended in farce (it's never explained that you can attack in your recording), and as a result, I'll soon be deactivating this function. Next on the list is the kitchen sink design to one of the final fights which washes as supremely lazy and potentially frustrating (I was lucky enough to make it through in one piece). Given the steep upswing in the difficulty curve of the final stages, I can see that this battle could be cause for some to throw in the towel and miss out on some subsequent, better designed set pieces. 

My only other complaint is that the game does very little to explain itself to the uninitiated. There's very little in the way of instruction for players who haven't cut their teeth on console classics, so a lot of younger and/or inexperienced people may miss out on a truly great experience. 

You might baulk at the near twenty dollar price tag, but this is some of the best five hours of play I've had all year. Shovel Knight demands concentration, keen reflexes and your immediate attention. Yacht Club Games did right by Australian 3DS owners in getting their game here eventually, the least any platforming enthusiast can do is give it a go. 

Tuesday, November 4

The laziest review of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4)

I like Call of Duty games.
To me, they're like the first game of the football season.
I walk into a games store at launch, or Day Zero. 
Okay, so the season kicked off a day earlier this year.
Sort of, but not really.

I always start playing with people online.
It is important to know one's place,
And mine is at the bottom of the food chain.
I pretty much stick to the Ground War playlist.
Good mix, more players, more points up for grabs.

Advanced Warfare is fun with strangers.
Possibly with friends too, but few are nearby.
Fewer still like video games. 
That and 4 player split screen appears dead.
Valè, my tiny space on the television.

There's new weapons and abilities.
The pace has increased considerably.
Did I mention you have jumpjet packs?
They're pretty great.
Basically Titanfall without the Titans.

Maps are tighter.
You're always shooting.
Always dying.
Always earning.
Unless you're good, I guess.

The campaign is the best I've played in years.
Probably as good as Modern Warfare.
Easily better than its sequels.
It leads you a little too well.
No room for error, or to explore.

Just as well the story clicks.
Spacey acts well, but is written as Vaudevillian.
What could have been subversive,
Ends in farce, dropping hints of subtlety.
Geopolitics are pretty black and white here.

Still, it looks great and feels fluid.
You get to drive cars and jets and mechs.
Again, it's directed a little too well.
More a narrative experience than a game.
Lots of sizzle, but the steak is well done.

Haven't tried co-op.
Probably won't bother.
I'll probably jump online for a few more hours.
Witness my kill to death ratio fall,
Through my beautiful polished floor.

Sunday, October 26

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS Review (3DS): Let's have a blue in haiku form

Let's fight: you and me
I've had enough of your shit
You've got it coming

Oh you brought friends huh?
They're stuttering from the lag
I'll just play alone

There's plenty to do
Not all of it is worthwhile
It's OK, I guess

Many characters
Don't think I'll learn them all now
Who has that much time?

Controls feel awkward
Please let me use my d-pad
Let's pray for our nubs

Portable Smash Bros.
The promise has been fulfilled
With some rough edges

Tuesday, September 30


One was the hardest 
I was not a great person
I did not deserve you

Two was the longest 
You knew where you were going
I sat still, playing Fire Emblem on your toilet 

Three had me threatened   
Thought I'd lose you to the Glitter Strip
You told me to get over it and get on the train 

Four was when I knew for sure 
Fridays meant everything
Reunited and it felt so good

Five and we were under the same roof 
We recruited Big Boss
I put a ring on it [cue Beyoncé bass hook]

Six had me preparing for seven 
I scrimped and saved
We had beautiful hair

Seven was the sweetest
I kissed you on the golf course
Nothing existed but us
Eight and you gave me courage
You gave me belief
You gave me mischief and its God

Nine was when we worked our fingers to the bone 
We saw less of each other
Realised money can't buy happiness

Ten saw our dreams come true
While my foundations crumbled
You gave me strength

Sunday, September 28

Spider-Man Unlimited Review (iOS/Android): Infinite Loop

The days of Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run hogging the top spots of the App Store's charts have passed, but Endless Runners are still being churned out in no small number. To stand out amongst them would take more than a few positive reviews on some no-name blogs. You'd need a prominent character, something at the forefront of the pop culture zeitgeist. You'd need a hero. You'd need Spider-Man or Batman, or some other popular dude in latex.

So Gameloft went and made Spider-Man Unlimited, the most shameless Subway Surfers clone mine eyes have ever seen. Coins are replaced by vials ('cause Peter Parker's a scientist I guess), and you run, jump and slide in three lanes. There's also enough colour to keep everyone from kids to the most cynical comic book lover engaged in its infinite loop of non-rewards for hours.

Spider-Man has a few tricks to differentiate his plight from that of the humble Subway Surfer: he can swing his way through the city, crawl up walls, and smack down robots and members of the Sinister Six. Each of these tasks is achieved by swiping, tapping, or through the use of gyroscope controls, and it was alarming just how quickly I became hooked on the Wall Crawler's version of the Bridge to Bay Fun Run.

It works because it looks somewhat organic. Spider-Man doesn't have a jet or a plane or a boat, he gets around on his own two feet and by shooting webs. You read through panels and pages of Spidey running and swinging his way through New York City, so this format makes sense. The only thing that looks ridiculous are the boss fights, which require you to punch and kick floating S.H.I.E.L.D insignias at prominent baddies.

There are currently four story chapters and I have no intention of playing through them. Mainly because the story is threadbare at best and provides some enticement for laying down dosh to fuel the most addictive aspect of Unlimited's free-to-play revenue model: unlocking Spider-Men via portals. Certain missions are locked unless you have specific Spidey costumes, or have reached a certain level, which is barred for common costumes.

The progression model is super stingy. Costume rarity is classified as follows: common, uncommon, rare and epic. Some costumes appear in multiple classifications, for example: you can get a common, uncommon and rare Classic Spider-Man. You can rank up costumes by absorbing doubles or spending Iso-8, with one Scrooge-like caveat: the double must be of the same rarity level as that of the costume you're trying to upgrade. You can't use an uncommon Web Armor Spider-Man to rank up a rare Web Armor Spider-Man and vice versa. This means that you're going to have be awfully patient or spend a fair wad of cash to unlock extra team slots and rare portals.

Iso-8, the mysterious isotope that appears in various other Marvel mobile titles, is the second in-game currency that can be collected by completing story missions or spending real money. You don't earn much from story missions, and the substance is prohibitively expensive otherwise (to both procure and spend), so I've found myself investing hours in the Events which refresh every 1 to 3 days and each have their own particular theme, which in turn offers score multipliers for using specific costumes. Ranking on the leaderboards usually nets you fuck all in the way of Iso-8, but it's a good way to unlock thousands of vials and standard portals: the most cost-effective means for unlocking costumes.

This method doesn't have to cost a thing in terms of dollars, but my word does it take a lot of time. It's also extremely frustrating when you find your team stacked with various versions of the same fucking costume. There are quite a few costumes to be unlocked, so it hurts when you finally earn enough Iso-8 to snag a rare portal only to be saddled with another Spider-Clone that you can't level up (rare and epic varieties in this instance).

Also annoying is the scoring model which affords bonuses to using rarer costumes by default, and Event bonuses can throw that off exponentially. When you've got the right suits on hand, you'll find your score multiplied by factors of 20 or more. When you don't have the required costume for a given event, there's almost no point in participating because you'd need to survive umpteen times longer than the dude who spent $50 levelling up an epic Spider-Man.

I know I'm coming across as negative on the whole Spider-Man Unlimited experience, but that's only because I see a great game crushed under a business model. On the Samsung Galaxy SIII, the game is fluid and beautiful. There's the odd hitch in frame rate, but it's never enough to throw you off your game. The same can't be said while playing on a standard iPad Mini. During the hectic later stages I found that the game chugged to the point where my inputs weren't being recognised. Across both versions I noticed delays in receiving Event rewards, but I got what was coming to me in the end.

Spider-Man Unlimited doesn't do much to reward loyal players, but it's easy enough to enjoy spending very little (and presumably even no) money, as swinging, punching and running don't cost a thing. If you enjoyed Subway Surfers or any other Endless Runner, give this a chance. It may end up wresting your interest from AAA fare in the hope of unlocking yet another Bulletproof Spider-Man.

Sunday, August 24

Rose Coloured Glasses: Max Payne 3

Note: This post contains major spoilers for Max Payne 3.

When I first played through Max Payne 3's brutal single player campaign, the shocking depictions of violence are what stuck with me in the aftermath. Sometimes I'd be playing some relatively light-hearted fare like Rayman Origins, only to think back to Marcelo's immolation at the hands of the Cracha Preto, or the holes I'd pushed through some poor schmuck's face with my automatic pistol.

It was powerful. It was shocking. It hung around like trauma.

I loved the game because, and in spite of, these displays of gratuity. I can remember looking away from the TV when I thought someone's death was imminent, even Max's. Sure this meant I failed the odd quick time event, but it also meant I could sleep at night. It meant that I could stomach the tension of shootouts and close encounters with militiamen. It meant eventually seeing the impossible tidiness of Max's redemption.

Recently I've felt the urge to return to glitzy (and grimy) Sao Paolo, but that was effectively tempered by my unwillingness to pull the Xbox 360 out of storage and hook it up to an entertainment system which is at capacity (in terms of HDMI ports and shelf space). Thankfully, Steam came to the rescue with an unbelievable bargain: the game plus all downloadable content for a measly 8 US dollars.

It may have taken 3 days to download, but it was well worth the wait.

Despite my laptop struggling with the neon noir presentation (especially scene transitions) and the pin stripe of Max's suit, it's been a relatively smooth ride. Shootdodging against hordes of gang bangers occurred at a reasonable clip (just shy of what I assume to be 30 frames per second), my "rig" just can't handle the raw emotional power of Rockstar's scripted sequences. Voicework usually played out of sync with the rendered actors and my hardware approached alarming temperatures, but we got through in the end.

What was most surprising was just how well the action held up. I can remember complaining that I found the damage model (read: how you accrue damage) to be inconsistent, but this time around it felt just fine. I mean, you should go from dandy to deathbed after being hit with a sniper rifle or up close with a shotgun, shouldn't you. Also, since when have video games been known for realistic portrayals of pain thresholds in the human body? With a bit of patience, any combat situation is easily cleared - the only exceptions being 2 not-quite-boss fights in the penultimate chapter. If you take the time to search your surrounds and find a few bottles of painkillers, it's even more likely that you'll live to shoot your way through another day.

Back to the action, leaping through a dangerous battlefield in slow motion and peppering anything in your sight with precisely placed projectiles is still super cool. Pulling away from cover could be less awkward, but I'd be unreasonable for labelling that as anything other than a slight annoyance. It is bloody and gross fun perforating heads and body parts with a wide arsenal that covers everything from several variations of the modest pistol to the rocket launcher.

What really sets this slightly aged masterpiece apart from 2 years’ worth of blockbusters is Health's original soundtrack that even makes a title screen sad enough to force your head between hands. The stirring string arrangements that punctuate the bullets and blood (and usually accompany the titular character drinking and drugging himself into a stupor) are, with hindsight, more haunting than any instance of gun violence. It lingers, playing through my head whenever anything fails to go to plan. The grimy, foreboding tracks that are played throughout the bullet ballet are just as -- for lack of a better word -- catchy, and I've had the album on regular rotation since I started downloading the game last week.

One interesting observation, particularly after having just started playing the Tomb Raider reboot, is that the game tends to fetishise death. I was almost glad to see the camera focus on Max's death mask and various angles of blood spatter after having been subjected to arguably erotic angles on Lara Croft's multiple and gruesome demises. Granted, Tomb Raider seems that little bit more uncomfortably preoccupied with the protagonist's agony in the throes of death, but at least now I can find an example of this treatment on a man.

While we're on the topic of problematic treatment of women in games, they exist only to be saved in Max Payne 3. I realise this ties in heavily with both the noir theme and the premise of the original, but even the strongest (and, if memory serves, only surviving) woman character is shown to have some serious flaws and has to be saved by the lead male. It could also be argued that Giovanna is the only woman to survive because she exhibits some positive behaviours and is thus worthy of saving.

So, two years on, Max Payne 3 is still very much worthy of your time. If 10 hours of bloody, bullet-riddled mayhem didn’t sound appealing upon its release, it’s not going to be any more attractive to you now. That being said, I again found myself falling for and with Max from failure to stomach-turningly grisly failure. If you’re looking for a third person shooter with a compelling story and solid, cover-based shooting action, I can recommend this (again) without hesitation. 

Friday, August 22


Hurt her and I'll kill you
I know people
I'm sure you're a nice guy
But I'm watching you

An idol threat aptly made
It showed that you care
That you're all scared and crazy
In hindsight, I mean

At the time it felt excessive
Now I feel like it could've served others
Too late now
Now we feel its absence

Sunday, August 17


Dad used to play games before children arrived
Dad beat the high score on Frogger
Dad had his score wiped by the first, crawling
Dad drank a carton to quell his frustration
Dad doesn't game anymore

Dad raised three boys
Dad was asked by the eldest to stop smoking
Dad didn't think to ween himself off nicotine
Dad was all willpower
Dad quit cold turkey

Dad wanted a staircase
Dad asked his boys for help
Dad offered nothing more in return
Dad would wait years to reach the bottom floor
Dad was patient

Dad worked from dawn
Dad did not observe public holidays
Dad had trouble sleeping
Dad always answered his phone
Dad provided for all but himself

Dad drove his sons to work
Dad asked for nothing in return
Dad advised his sons to "Get a license."
Dad ran a taxi service
Dad never got paid his due

Dad received his diagnosis
Dad kept working
Dad fought with his hands
Dad could no longer trust his body
Dad started slipping away

Dad missed his boys
Dad waited for them to return
Dad would remember loose dates as promises
Dad wants nothing more
Dad is still waiting

Dad left the country
Dad forgot his friends and family
Dad forgot who he was
Dad pissed his pants
Dad was so ashamed

Dad fought for his life
Dad was never threatened
Dad tried to make his escape
Dad was surrounded
Dad is alone

Tuesday, August 12

To end

I've never felt the urge to end
I never hope to
I feel for those that do

To have death as an option
As an alternative
Sometimes you just need to rest

To know you'll never wake again
Never feel that tightness
No more anxiety, no more emptiness

A charming prospect, I'm sure
But please, don't leave
We need you

I need you
I'll miss you
I love you

Monday, August 11

Friendly Fire: A Hearthstone Adventure

We ate lunch with my folks
We drank beer
I don't drink beer

Ideology, faith and family
Never a good mix
Pick one, discard the rest

We could've sat in silence
Instead we engaged
Battled hate speech with humanity

You sometimes fight
Even though you might not believe, at least not as strongly
Fascinating, if not admirable

You can't play a card you've not been dealt
Yet somehow, you did. You always do
Rebel Nerd

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut (Wii U) Review Notes

I reviewed Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 2011. A lot of my observations still hold true, but I thought I'd summarize what the Wii U version of the Director's Cut brings to the table:
  • The Missing Link DLC is entirely disposable from both plot and play perspectives. I understand why the developers chose to limit the use of augmentations, because as an additional opportunity to earn experience, the odds would be stacked squarely in the player's favour. Still, it feels somewhat cheap to be limited in what are relatively difficult combat scenarios. There's a lot more trial and error at play in this new segment, but in the end it still contains the same elements that made the core game so special. 
  • I found side missions and areas that I failed to notice in 1.5 subsequent playthroughs of the core game. 
  • Thanks to the experience I earned playing through the Missing Link and through finding additional missions and interactions, I unlocked every augmentation that I wanted to use... and started unlocking upgrades that I wouldn't even think to use. 
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution is looking more and more awkward and robotic as time progresses. 
  • Off TV support is fantastic: touch controls for menus, keypads, screens and keyboards are super responsive. The only complaint I have is that everything looks a little washed out.  
  • The Wii U Gamepad is a perfect, awkward match for Human Revolution. 
I picked up Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut for just under 20 bucks at EBGames. Well worth the cost of admission in my eyes. Even with the damage done by Father Time, this is still a compelling story that feels better with a Gamepad in your hands. 

Saturday, July 19

Destiny Beta Impressions (PS4): No surprises

Until this past Wednesday morning, I hadn't shown any interest in Destiny. Bungie's much anticipated and more hyped MMO/FPS hybrid looked pretty, but it also looked hollow. I couldn't see any personality hidden behind the armoured Guardians that populated almost every screenshot. Even Master Chief looked to have more going on up top than any of the colourful avatars that were locked in battle with what I now know to be The Fallen, and truth be told, I've no love John-117 or whatever the hell you want to call him. Give me Noble Team or the ODST squad anyday.

The buzz surrounding the beta that runs from 17 July through to 26 July hit fever pitch on Twitter, however, and I'll jump at pretty much any chance to board a speeding Hype Train. Whether it's packed with well-dressed peeps who've nothing to say or teeming with loveable rogues, it makes no difference. HYPE TRAIN A COMIN', BABY! TOOT TOOT!

I wasn't willing to pay for a ticket and thankfully, the Twittersphere was raining beta codes for those looking out for them. A generous follower came through for me and assured that he had all platforms covered; no need to pre-order.

The download took about 12 hours all up and I wasn't really in any condition to start playing last night when it was ready. Thankfully (?), an intense fit of coughing had me up at 4 this morning, so what better time would there be to start an intergalactic adventure?

As I made my Mark Hamill circa 1980 avatar complete with Ultimate Warrior eye makeup, I reflected again on why, until days ago, Destiny hadn't really illicited anything other than a hearty shrug from me since the big reveal towards the end of 2012. I think by conflating MMO with FPS, Borderlands was immediately brought to mind. I don't hate Borderlands or its sequel, but there's a litany of better shooters on the market. Gearbox's series looks fantastic and plays pretty well, but it's paced in such a painstakingly slow manner. Even with a deadeye and an itchy trigger finger, if you see that skull indicator next to your target's health bar, you're not going anywhere (other than into a body bag). I made the assumption that Destiny would conform to the following mathematical formula:

Destiny = (Halo X Borderlands) - humour + pretty graphics

I was right. Well, just to be clear, when I include "humour" in the function above, I think that Gearbox (and, to be fair, a lot of the series' fans) are of the opinion that Claptrap and co. are funny. I'm more of the opinion that the games have a "sense of humour", but rarely approach anything remotely humorous. I guess what I'm trying to say is, Destiny is pretty dry.

Be it your Ghost companion or any number of high and mighty merchants and guild (?) reps, no one is in it for the laffs. That's not a game breaker and that's not to say that every game I play is 100% comedy gold, it's more that I can't imagine investing a significant amount of time in a game, MMO or otherwise, that doesn't connect with me. Humour is one way to pull me in, but a compelling narrative and/or memorable characters work just as well.

Destiny ain't got none of that.

What it does have though is a powerful orchestral soundtrack that creates more atmosphere and feeling than anything else I've seen in my time with the game so far. It speaks to me more directly than the haughty script and does a great job of creating genuine tension when you're exploring some of the darker parts of Earth post galactic expansion (and potentially, apocalypse). Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton looks at it in greater depth, but I reckon this might just be the element that hooks me in to the finished product.

Combat and movement have that distinct Bungie flavour: floaty jumping, competent driving and lots of circle strafing characterise the majority of your time in conflict. If you've played any game in the Halo series, you're going to feel right at home here; moreso if you've had a crack at Borderlands as well. The pace, in terms of character progression, feels similar to Borderlands; although I must say that I hope it doesn't slow down much more in the final version. Well, not until the end game at least. There doesn't appear to be any element of choice in terms of skill trees like there is in Borderlands, other than the ability to switch Sub Classes once you've unlocked them. Abilities are unlocked in a predominantly linear fashion, and it works well enough.

I reached the level cap with my Warlock character and am still yet to sample each of the game/match types available in the beta. Story missions work just as you'd imagine: progress from Point A to Point B, defeat waves of enemies, listen to expository dialogue, repeat. It felt a little disjointed seeing several other players completing the same objective that I was on without directly impacting on my progress. Kills by non-party members still added to my experience point tally, but they couldn't progress me to the next objective and vice versa. It's co-op but not really.

The Explore mission I played didn't seem to end. More sub missions kept popping up to the point where I went from level 6 through to 8 (the current cap) on the same map. Enemies varied in level depending on my location, meaning that a greater challenge was almost always around the corner. Literally. This mission type didn't work particularly well unless a Public Event was on. The time-limited missions turned a listless wander through a wasteland into a multiplayer free-for-all. The most enjoyable event I took part in tasked me and whoever else was around with taking down a Devil Walker (or spider tank). A tense 5 minutes awaits you in that instance, rest-assured.

The Crucible, Destiny's Player versus Player component is also playable in the beta. I've only trialed the Control match type (think Domination from the Call of Duty games), but I'm pleased to say it handles just as it should (read: it's freaking Halo). There didn't appear to be any issues with balance, even with variance in player levels. The only thing I can foresee being tweaked is the use of the Super ability. After completing enough objectives / scoring kills you'll get access to the same "Super Charged" attack you'd use when playing solo. It's ridiculously powerful and it's great fun when you're the one firing, but as someone who lost a pretty impressive kill streak to this one-handed Hadouken, it can feel like a cheap note to end on.

Destiny hasn't provided anything in the way of surprises, but that hasn't turned out to be a bad thing. I'm chomping at the bit for more and have just started up my next character with a new class. It looks beautiful and it handles well, but was there any doubt that Bungie wouldn't deliver on these fronts? What I'm more worried about is the hook. What is it that's going to keep me playing? From my time with the beta trial, I'm guessing it's not going to be the story or the characters. A beautiful score might be enough to get me started, but I doubt it'll have me investing anywhere near as much time in it as a World of Warcraft enthusiast has in Azeroth's varied locales. Maybe there's a few surprises in store. Then again, maybe not.

Friday, July 18

A New Error

(Image source:

People respond to pain in different ways.

Some drink it away. Some lash out, hurting the ones they love or people that only want to help. I retreat. I retreat and surround myself with anything that could possibly illicit feelings of nostalgia. The familiar brings the pain to the surface and usually ends in a few fits of good, hard sobbing. After this I usually feel better, or better enough.

The last few weeks have been pretty bloody painful. After returning from 5 weeks in Europe, the best 5 weeks of my life, I got back to some pretty hard truths. I quarreled with people I love. I lost a lot of sleep. I still don't know if my dad will get better. I feel useless.

Cue video games. Cue games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution that empower you with superhuman abilities whilst also forcing you to reflect on the frailty of our bodies and the notion of what it is to be human.

I hadn't played Human Revolution since I started my second, ultimately futile ghost run (read: finish the game without being seen) on the highest difficulty in the dying days of 2011. I've since traded up to the Director's Cut version and am now playing on the Wii U. Off TV play has allowed for me to steal a few hours before bed and Carly's renewed hunger for real estate reality shows hasn't slowed my progress either.

The striking use of yellow remains my favourite element of the game's visual design. Whether it's the golden highlight of all items that can be interacted with or spaces like The Hive, there's a sleazy warmth to Detroit and Hengsha. The locations need to emanate this lived-in feeling as most of the NPCs look as though they're ill-handled marionettes.

Despite some truly awkward character animation that looks even worse with age, the costume design still holds up. The impossible prismatic design of David Sarif's vest, the beautiful embellishment on the shoulders of Jensen's trench coat, the Victorian necklines of Megan's jacket: there is so much drama in the clothes each character wears.

The gunplay is still woeful, but the loading up with powerful and visually-stunning abilities more than makes up for this shortcoming. There's nothing quite as satisfying as sneaking away from enemy pursuit fully cloaked, or busting through a brick wall and snapping the neck of the poor schmuck on the other side.

Best of all, still, is Elias Toufexis growling voicework. As Adam Jensen, he manages to sound three parts dreamy lead and one part Batman. He is as instantly likeable now as he was back in 2011. For the last few days it's been like hanging out with an old, heavily-augmented friend. I don't feel great right now, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution has provided that little pang of nostalgia that I needed to start feeling better.

Sunday, June 29

Easy on the eyes: Wii U impressions

This past week, all I wanted to do was play some video games on my relatively large screen TV. Suffering from jet lag and a vicious chest infection, there was no way I was going to be up to the standard required to shoot faces online, or even be able to concentrate on linear, narrative fare like Transistor, Supergiant Games' follow up to one of my all-time favourites, Bastion. For most of the week, the best I could manage was one or two levels of Donkey Kong Returns 3D on my 3DS.  

The only way I could hope to get any console gaming done during my convalescence was with a smaller, more eye-friendly screen. With the release of Mario Kart 8, perhaps now was finally the time to consider a Wii U.  

On Thursday, retailer Big W commenced its Total Toy Domination sale. Games were not spared from this promotion, and the Premium Wii U console bundle with Mario Kart 8 was being sold at a considerable discount. First party Nintendo titles, usually sold at a premium years after release, were also going for a song (plus $58). I did what any sick, tired nerd would do and asked my beloved wife, Carly if she would mind going toe-to-toe with parents looking to save a buck in order to retrieve the last piece of machinery I would need to complete the next-gen (now current-gen) console Holy Trinity. 

As Carly was suiting-up in her finest armour, an anomaly occurred. I was browsing online and found that rival, K Mart was selling the Basic Wii U console with 2 games for less than half the price Big W were asking for the Premium counterpart. I had some thinking to do: both versions had meager hard drive capacities (8gb in the Basic, 32gb in the Premium), and the Premium machine came with additional pieces of plastic, a Wii sensor bar and a game I actually wanted to play. 

I already had a Wii sensor bar, and upon further reading, I found that the hard drive capacity issue was moot as I had a self-powered external hard drive spare. Carly's mission had changed somewhat: she would still need to wander into the Big W battlefield, but only after having retrieved the Basic console from a hopefully-quieter K Mart.  

Thursday morning went as close to plan as I could have hoped. I had a cheap Wii U (our local K Mart store had divined that only 1 was required for the entire sale period) and Big W had stock of most of the first party games I was looking for; including Mario Kart 8, the whole reason for this impulsive endeavour. For a console and 6 games, I'd pay less than I would have for the Premium bundle: a solid score. 

The Wii U takes just as long to set up as its more powerful competitors. Thankfully, Nintendo have included the penultimate firmware update on the Mario Kart 8 disc, so I only needed to download a small file to keep proceedings on track. After about 3 hours, the console was finally ready for use: plenty of time to accommodate an unintended spell of unconsciousness.

Apart from a few kart races this weekend, I've spent most of my time playing on a screen exponentially smaller than my 47 inch TV screen. It's been spectacular. 

The Wii U gamepad is somewhat more awkward to wield than your DualShocks and Xbox (both One and 360) controllers, but off TV support is going to trump ergonomics every day of the week. Off TV play is the kind of thing that strengthens relationships; it could even potentially save some. What do I mean? Allow me to set the scene. 

My wife loves sports. She loves Rugby League and Tennis, but worse, she's drawn to events like the Olympics that are scheduled from dawn to dusk for weeks at a time. I am a nerd. The sports I enjoy watching are either covered ineffectively by Australian broadcasters (read: Basketball) or viewed for primarily sentimental reasons (Dutch World Cup campaigns) and everything else I merely tolerate. With the Wii U, I can now skip Monday Night Football and keep plugging away at 150cc races in Mario Kart 8. Thanks to off TV play, I can play Game Boy Advance classics while Carly watches Wimbledon. It's not like we argued over who got to use the TV previously, but now it's a non-issue. We can both enjoy all that we love without (much) compromise. 

I had my first experience with off TV support last year with the PlayStation 4, but the Vita's clusterfuck of touch controls and 6 buttons wasn't a great fit with your average AAA blockbuster. I could get through FPS campaigns with a bit of patience, but Sony handheld's sub par shoulder buttons never held up well against human competition. The Wii U gamepad feels like far less a compromise when it comes to off TV play. 

I'm yet to test the Wii interface which allows for backwards compatibility, save for ability to play Gamecube games. This is a true shame and it's not helped by the fact that the process to transfer your Wii saves and purchases appears too laborious to even consider. Still, good to know that I'll be able to play Wonder Boy III and Majora's Mask at some point should the urge consume me.   

The Wii U iteration of the eShop is well presented but it's hampered by less than optimal load times. Pricing for Virtual Console titles is consistent with the 3DS and Wii (read: just a smidge too high), but the range is pretty great. I couldn't resist picking up Advance Wars, Super Mario World and one of the few Zelda games I enjoyed, A Link to the Past. There's no support for the Nintendo 64 as yet, nor the Segas Master System or Mega Drive. It was pleasing to see that Dr Kawashima's Brain Training was available for free. Not only because I played it regularly back in the day, but also because it foreshadows that more DS games will be available in the near future. 

Download speeds appear to be on par with competitor consoles, and Spotpass functionality downloads demos and other free titles to your console if you opt in. Speaking of demos, there are only 14 demos available for download from the eShop; talk about a dying breed. 

2 years on and the Wii U looks to be a prime acquisition, particularly if you can find one cheap. Off TV support is the future of gaming for the average gamer that is now over 30 and, for some, sharing a TV with one of more people. The eShop can take its sweet time to load, but the solid offering of past classics will be sure to suckle the contents of your wallet. It's only been 4 days, but I can see myself becoming unwholesomely attached to the white, Nintendo-branded hunks of plastic now occupying my living room. 

Sunday, May 4

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Review (iPad/PC): The allure of digital cardboard

I've tried my hand at a few Collectible Card Games (CCGs) over the course of my thirty years. I don't think I've ever played any in strict accordance with their respective rules though. Whether it was the first Star Wars CCG with my older brother, Beau or the Pokemon game with my brother from another mother, Matt, I was more enamoured with the idea of drawing a hand full of my favourite heroes rather than learning the mechanics of these games and building up to the perfect turn. A short order of friends and acquaintances willing to invest in these expensive pursuits was the main reason my collections were relegated to folders in my parents' shed, but I still feel a nostalgic pluck on my heartstrings when I see packs of nerds hovering over loose cards at my local comic book shop.

Enter the digital age. Folders worth of cards can now be accessed anywhere, there's no shortage of or problems in accessing competition, and there's no temptation to trade or otherwise lose valuable cards if my competitive side were to take hold. Sure, the thrill of tearing foil can't be recreated faithfully on a screen, but I'll be damned if Blizzard don't come close with Hearthstone

It's weird too, as I've had little to no investment in the characters, races, spells and lore of the Warcraft universe prior to now. I mean, I played Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness pretty heavily in my teens as well as my fair share of Warcraft III multiplayer, but all I can remember in terms of narrative is that one or more of these games may or may not have been set in Azeroth. I haven't ever played World of Warcraft, though I did enjoy watching my younger brother, Reuben's adventures as a dress-making Druid. The squeal I let out upon unwrapping Archmage Antonidas had everything to do with the card's obvious strategic value and rarity, rather than for any sentimental reasons. There's no reason why expanding my collection should be a thrilling proposition, but here I am, battling the temptation to spend more dough on virtual pieces of cardboard.

In terms of the actual game of cards, Hearthstone is deceptively simple. You pick a hero that represents one of nine different classes and jump into the action with a pre-built deck or build your own comprised of both class-specific and neutral cards. Heroes each have a different power which can be used once per turn and include the ability to craft weapons, summon minions, heal, or deal damage to specific characters. Matches are fast-paced with the ultimate objective of defeating the enemy hero. You can damage the enemy hero through direct attacks with hero powers, weapons and spells, or by deploying and attacking with minions. Each card and power costs mana, your pool of which builds (to a maximum of ten) with each turn. As a rule, attacks and minions that deal big damage generally require a lot of mana, so the tension escalates as the match progresses.

Classes are surprisingly-well balanced, with only a few Legendary (the highest category of rarity) cards undermining competitive match-ups. I was also pleasantly-surprised to see that each class plays substantially differently to the next. The Warlock deck is all about risk and reward, with a hero power and cards that, more often than not, hurt the holder as well as the opponent. The Paladin's spells focus on strengthening or neutralising the minions in play. The Warrior has command of fearsome weapons and can fortify itself with near-impenetrable shields if an opponent is too preoccupied with the distractions on the board. The Shaman... well, to be honest, I have no fucking idea how to use that deck but that's not to say that I haven't come up against some powerful, totem-wielding opponents. I've played hundreds of matches now and am staggered at the ingenuity of my opponents in using cards and powers that I had once thought useless.  

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is free-to-play with microtransaction support to buy new packs and embark on Arena runs. The Arena tasks players with selecting from a sample of three classes and then building a deck of random cards. Once you've composed your deck, you'll take on other combatants and try to amass as many wins as possible. After three losses you'll be given a key to access a modest cache of prizes (keep in mind that I'm not terribly good at the Arena format, so I can't confirm or deny what a bananas run would net you). You can purchase packs and Arena runs without investing real money, but you'll need to complete a few daily challenges to foot the bill with virtual currency.

For those of you thinking that high fantasy, tabletop nerdery may not be for you, I urge you to give it a shot. My lovely wife, Carly has not been known to love either of these things, but found herself battling in the Arena for hours during school holidays while I slaved away at work. We've had a few clashes in local multiplayer and it's here that you see the advantage in dropping a few bucks on Expert packs. I'd like to think that my wins were primarily on account of skill, but I know those few Legendary cards I'd come across were swinging matches in my favour.

I can't see my addiction to Hearthstone fading anytime soon. There's a single player expansion on the horizon and I'm obsessed with continuously tweaking my Warlock and Mage decks. While it's simple enough to pick up and play, there's a wealth of mechanics with which to experiment. It also bears mentioning that it's an immaculately presented CCG experience with beautiful artwork, a diverse colour pallette, delightful score, and more charm than your average AAA blockbuster. The buzz around this game is entirely justified; download it now so I can challenge you to a few rounds by the hearth.  

Wednesday, March 12

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review (PS3): Extended episode

Answer YES or NO to the following question:
  1. Do you like South Park?
Result: If you answered yes to the question above, you will enjoy South Park: The Stick of Truth.

More questions (YES or NO):
  1. Do you love the Paper Mario games?
  2. Have you been watching South Park since the very first episode?
  3. Do you like the idea of a twelve hour long South Park episode?
Result: If you answered yes to all of the above questions, you will love South Park: The Stick of Truth.

Bonus questions (again YES or NO):
  1. Can you live with minor technical hitches, including an inconsistent frame rate and lip-syncing delays? 
  2. Can you forgive a checkpoint and save system that doesn't work on occasion, costing you hours of progress?
  3. Can you tolerate the South Park writing team's usual approach to the following topics: abortion, rape, gay sex and anal probing?  
Result:  If you answered yes to all seven questions, it is entirely possible that, at year's end, South Park: The Stick of Truth will be your favourite game released in 2014. 

Tuesday, March 11

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Review (XB1): All's fair in love and war

I have this terrible feeling that Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare will fade into obscurity following the release of Titanfall this week. For those who don't know:
  • Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is a team-based third person shooter based on the wildly-successful tower defense franchise.
  • Titanfall is a first person shooter developed by Respawn Entertainment: a studio headed by Vince Zampella and Jason West, the fathers of the dudebro juggernaut Call of Duty series. 
Don't get me wrong, the hype behind Titanfall is, based on my time with the beta trial, entirely justified. Twitch shooting plus parkour plus mechs is a winning formula and, even with a paltry two maps available for the duration, my time with it felt more dynamic and enjoyable than any match of Call of Duty: Ghosts or Battlefield 4 I've played over the last few months. 

The problem here is that Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is also thoroughly enjoyable, it also features a relatively paltry selection of maps and modes and it also feels like a better game than the latest installments of the entrenched competition. 

The action is spread across three different modes of play:
  • Garden Ops - This is your garden variety (lolololololol) Horde Mode, playable solo or co-operatively with up to four players. This is about as close to the original Plants Vs Zombies  as you're going to get in this package, with players defending a strategically-placed garden from ten waves of zombie attackers. 
  • Team Vanquish - Read: Team Deathmatch. It's worth mentioning though that you can revive your teammates to reduce the opposing teams score. Cool scoring mechanic in my humble opinion. 
  • Gardens and Graveyards - Similar to Rush mode in the Battlefield series: the attacking team (zombies) needs to capture control points with the ultimate objective of destroying gigantic pieces of plant military hardware. Plants have the obvious objective of halting the zombies' progress in preventing them from capturing the next control point.  
There are "Classic" playlists available for both Team Vanquish and Gardens and Graveyards that forbid the use of unlockable class variants (more on that later), but I could never find a match on these with more than a handful of players connected. There's also the "Welcome Mat" variant of Team Vanquish to acquaint new players with the classes and mechanics that afford you a little bit of extra health on each spawn if you find yourself on the end of a drubbing. 

Team Vanquish is a good starting point as you can switch between classes on each spawn and get a feel for the action. Regular spawning also allows for abilities to unlock as you complete sets of class-specific challenges. Challenges range from the relatively easy "Use X ability Y amount of times" to "Kill X class with Y ability Z amount of times". These kind of secondary objectives are nothing new to the competitive multiplayer scene, but it does help develop a sense of identity for each class - particularly as you reach the higher levels and unlock packs of cosmetic items for your (read: my) dearest Sunflower. 

Smile, you're dead!

As fun as it is, Team Vanquish rarely feels as involved or exciting as Gardens and Graveyards. The scale and variety of this mode manages to rival DICE at their structure-destroying best, even without tanks, helicopters and buzzwords like "levelution". The final control point in each map also throws in a unique challenge like setting charges at strategic points or the good, old-fashioned bum-rushing of the stage (or mansion doors in this particular case). The average match is over in roughly five minutes, but with a skilled team, you'll experience some tense firefights in elegantly-designed spaces for as long as thirty. 

Garden Ops for mine was literally and figuratively the most rewarding mode available. Literally rewarding in that surviving until the halfway point gave me a good chance of netting upwards of 5000 coins. Otherwise, judicious placement of potted plants and use of class abilities had me defending my garden from dozens of zombies at any one time. Boss waves are brutally difficult, particularly if you suffer the misfortune of "winning" big at the Zomboss Slots. Victory is always hard fought and often well rewarded. 

Classes are sufficiently varied and, in most cases, fill multiple roles required for a successful team. The Sunflower, for example, is a healer, but can also plant itself and lay suppressing fire to cover teammates. The Cactus is your sniper that can plant potato mines -- an adorable claymore, if you will -- and erect battlements to block incoming fire. On the other side you have the classes like the All-Star that have a minigun-esque football cannon and the ability to charge at and kill or otherwise damage groups of enemies. The zombie Foot Soldier is able to use its rocket pack to reach high places, and the Peashooter's Hyper ability performs a similar function. Each plant class has a zombie counter, but that's not to say that they handle in a similar way. I never felt that any class offered either side an insurmountable advantage, but I have read complaints of balance issues.  

Some traditional trappings of the genre have been reconfigured to ease the learning curve for, what the mic chatter reveals to be, younger players and those that are new to the competitive multiplayer arena. The most obvious example is that headshots don't make for one shot kills -- even with a sniper class -- but there are other skillful tweaks that slow down the action to a pace more conducive to learning, including the lack of a persistent sprint ability and melee attacks for most classes.

Class variants (which come equipped with different primary weapons), cosmetic upgrades and consumable items are unlocked by purchasing packs of cards. Packs are priced, and priced highly, depending on the likelihood of them containing rare items. At yet there's no option to use real money to buy packs and in-game currency is earned at a painstakingly slow rate, so the economy does impact on the game. Across twenty hours of play, I only unlocked one class variant and that was care of a pre-order bonus pack. Unlocking class variants isn't essential to success or even enjoyment of the game, and I'm not saying that I'd want to spend any more money on it, but it does feel like an awful lot is withheld from those unwilling to invest an inordinate amount of time in play. 

Consumable items such as potted plants (sentries) and zombie spawns are used in Garden Ops and Gardens and Graveyards to add an extra layer of strategy to proceedings. This AI support is never going to sway a battle if left unaccompanied, but they can prove a vital distraction on both attack and defense. As this support comes with a not insubstantial cost, I've not seen them exploited in a way that felt cheap or grating and it's also a cute nod to the series' tower defence origins.  

With a charming aesthetic and a budget price tag, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare would normally be an easy game to recommend. The only issue is that in just under a week's time, I predict an incoming drought in player numbers thanks to the release of what is arguably the most anticipated shooter since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Even considering the relative dearth of maps and modes in addition to the odd connection failure, Garden Warfare may not enjoy the success it deserves on account of poor timing. 

Tuesday, March 4

Ryse: Son of Rome Review (XB1): Pawn in the Game of Man

Have you ever played Streets of Rage 2? I have. Hundreds of times. For those of you who haven't, it's a side-scrolling beat em' up that first appeared on the Sega Mega-Drive (Genesis). It's a genuine classic, but even on its release -- when I was what? 8 years old -- I thought it repetitive. I beat the same poor fuckers to a pulp hundreds of times over. Poor Mama Galsia, she raised nothing shy of a horde of ginger-haired failures. 

In my youth and on recent playthroughs, I felt remorse for killing off an entire line with my fists. Now in Ryse: Son of Rome, I'm guilt ridden from butchering an entire empire. An empire comprised of approximately six different families: six different, hundreds-strong families of Anglo-Saxon origin.  

For all of Crytek's technical wizardy, the fact that you spend five hours dismembering and disemboweling the same six character models is sure to compromise any sense of immersion the photo-realistic visuals would otherwise achieve. Well, that, and character animation outside of scripted sequences and executions looks relatively awkward. 

Most of the campaign is spent alternating between sword attacks, shield pushes and counters to either wear down your enemies or otherwise open them up for an execution attack. Executions are short quick time event sequences where you're tasked with pressing the buttons that correspond with the coloured sheen your enemies are covered in for one to five brutal strikes. These animations are explicitly, as in to the bone, violent, and it's entirely possible that this brand of hyper violence would turn quite a few people off from the first chapter. If you're okay with megalitres of blood and exposed bone, then there's just as great a chance that the extremely repetitive nature of the game's combat will turn you off just as quickly. A few handfuls of contrived and occasionally frustrating set pieces that involve throwing javelins, operating turrets, troop placement (as in, do you want there here or there?), and the timed shielding of attacks do very little to mix-up the core four button formula. 

Back on the topic of executions, you cannot in any way fail these sequences. Even if you miss the prompt altogether, the animation will continue and you'll net experience and, potentially, other benefits such as health from the transaction. This means that if you're looking for anything resembling a challenge, I'd recommend starting on the highest available difficulty setting. Even then, provided you can time your counters well (again, not hard), you're looking at a short, uneventful ride. 

Like the mispelled title, the story told in Ryse is ill-conceived. It's a straight up revenge plot littered with the Ancient Roman equivalents of "oscar mike" and "hoorah". There's roughly a handful of women with speaking parts, and those that do open their mouths are usually wearing close to nothing -- at the very least, you're eyes will be drawn to plunging necklines -- and subject to the most questionable breast physics engine since the original Dead or Alive. This is a story written by dudes for dudes, and the final twists are so ridiculous and powerfully-stupid that you'll need tongs to pull the eyes from the back of your skull.  

If you're the patient type and you enjoy the Ryse brand of repetitive, shallow combat, you'll be glad to know that there is a co-op multiplayer component to feast on following the campaign's hilarious close. I was only able to find two matches over an hour period and I was disconnected from each after a few minutes. You can fight through arenas on your own if companionship is slow in coming, but even then, you're dealing with the same combat system in some overly familiar scenarios. 

For all of Crytek and Microsoft's boasting of immersion and photo-realism, Ryse is all bark and no bite. It's not broken by any means, but it's not anything approaching fun or satisfying. Only approach if found in the cheapest, deepest depths of the bargain bin.

Sunday, February 16

Dead Rising 3 Review (XB1): A fetching quest

Back in 2006, the arrival of the "next generation" was heralded with thousands of zombies. The first Dead Rising showed me what was possible as a result of those extra few megahertz and megabytes: an awkward, charming and relatively well-populated zombie apocalypse. I was convinced that there was no way a PlayStation 2 could render that many threats on screen at the one time; I'd need to shell out a few hundred dollars for an Xbox 360 if I wanted to see everything games could be from that point forward.

Fast forward to a few months off the present day and a raging impulse robbed me of a chance to test the waters. I couldn't imagine surviving the afternoon of 22 November 2013 without taking a "next generation" console home with me. Forgetting my posturing with sentiments such as "Microsoft can't be trusted with DRM (digital rights management) policy," or "the Kinect 2.0 brings the NSA into your living room," I blew roughly 900 bucks on the Xbox One, two games and accessories without so much as a second thought. I was happy to trust Capcom with justifying the jump to more powerful hardware once more.

Dead Rising 3 did what I needed it to do: it put a few hundred more zombies on the screen, it streamlined the series' set of clunky mechanics, and it managed to stave off what could've been a pretty severe case of buyer's remorse. By that I mean, of course, that I'm still playing it. Still grappling with the undead, vehicle fusing, its hints of racism, archaic quest structure and overt sexism. It's a guilty pleasure that I'm still indulging in months after I first completed it. That's pretty rare for me. I finish a game and I move on; it's something truly special that keeps me coming back for more.

If there's one thing I appreciate in a sequel, it's in seeing that action has been taken to address flaws from previous entries in a series. By removing the requirement to find workbenches to make combo weapons and by making AI companions a little more intelligent and lethal, it became that much easier to have fun slaying the zombie hordes. By implementing a checkpoint system and removing the requirement to find toilets to save your game (in Normal mode), it was that much easier to avoid agitation. There are fewer impediments to enjoyment and satisfaction here than in any other game in the series.

The new combo vehicle mechanic (haha, unintentional pun) takes a lot of the pain out of the game's outdated approach to questing. That is to say that Dead Rising 3 is a 10-15 hour collection of fetch quests, and trucks that spew acid, fireworks and gas canisters do a great deal to neutralise the threat and frustration that comes with every street, highway and alleyway being densely populated with the undead. You spend hours behind the wheels of large, often unwieldy vehicles driving item X back to person Y. As you progress, you'll find that your favourite routes to and from each of the four (let's call them) islands that comprise the fictional setting of Los Perdidos are blocked or otherwise reconfigured, meaning that the typical fetch quest can be drawn out to the point of farce. Navigation is a core, tedious component of play, and the addition of combo vehicles makes the repetition bearable, even fun in some instances.

Battles against the series' staple Psychos return and the glut of effective combo weapons serves to neuter another source of prior frustration. I bested all but one of these fights on the first attempt though, so we've gone from one extreme to the other. These fights are no longer irritating, they're just short grinds with some offensive scripted sequences book-ending the action. On the whole, this would have to be the easiest instalment in the series by a long way. Even Nightmare Mode fails to mount a challenge close to anything I encountered in Dead Rising 2; but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing.

Dead Rising 3 is written for all of us straight, white, middle class bros as it others pretty much anyone outside of that paradigm. The way in which characters of colour were written is particularly odious. I can only think of two black men that I encountered throughout the entire game and both end up betraying the player character in spectacularly cringe-worthy fashion. One side mission manages to be both racist and painfully sexist as you're tasked at first with rescuing a pimp, Big D and escorting him to his massage parlor. Upon arriving, you're greeted with a woman bound and lying on a bed. You can either kill Big D's "favourite bitch" or you can rescue her and murder her captor. I opted for the latter, only to find that Kandy moaned suggestively with as much as a slight breeze. Trying to get through a crowded doorway with my new companion gave me enough sound bytes to put together a sexy radio serial. The standard of writing is often embarrassing, and I'd hesitate to use the game to showcase the power of next-gen hardware to friends or family given how prone it is to instances or "broments" that portray women, overweight people, and people of colour in a less than positive light.

Despite these missteps, there's no denying that creating a hybrid automatic rifle shotgun or electric traffic light bow staff to mow down streets worth of zombies is a whole heap of fun. Dead Rising 3 is greater than the sum of its parts, with all-out chaos accounting for shitty, callous writing, and a heavily-populated zombie apocalypse proving distracting enough to forgive a litany of bugs and technical hiccups. The concept and mechanics of play are so well realised that Dead Rising 3 is, for mine, the best game currently available on any next-gen (current gen?) platform.

Friday, January 3

The High Horse Audit 2013: The most disappointing game of the Year of Luigi

Note: This post contains spoilers for BioShock Infinite.

This decision was easy. It was made as early as April. Nothing could quite match the bitter disappointment that came with wandering through Columbia and soaking up the most cynical, arguably racist narrative I've seen in a videogame.

Cynical because, to me, having a group of subjugated people of colour wresting power and then attacking their oppressors in ways more violent and terrifying than what they were accustomed to set up a new enemy is a pretty heavy-handed way of saying that power corrupts everyone and everything that ever lived anywhere, including the crazy racist floating city in which the game is set. Racist because as Courtney Stanton points out in this blog post, having Columbia "... destroyed by the only black characters in the game, who are depicted as violent, white-people-hating, child-murdering savages," serves to confirm " the racist white peoples’ ideas about black people and presenting them as true." Using my powers of deduction, I'm guessing that Booker DeWitt's journey is supposed to be some sort of vague commentary on ills of racism and religious zealotry, but it just ends up shitting on its own message so spectacularly that it fails to impart any meaningful message on anything in particular.

Even if you're not willing to acknowledge that the original BioShock offered a critique of Objectivism, at the very least least it gave us terms like ludonarrative dissonance and the base lesson that sparing small children a horrific fate can bear some reward. The best BioShock Infinite could give us was a throng of games journalists ejaculating pretentious assemblages of words next to the numbers 9 or 10 (or equivalent). The hype surrounding Infinite in the two years preceding its release was mirrored in dizzyingly high review scores which for mine at least, pretty much solidified it as a sure choice for the most disappointing release of this, the Year of Luigi.  I mean, not only did it seem like the writers at Irrational Games were using, as ABC Art's Daniel Golding described as, the "aesthetics of ‘racism’ and ‘history’ as a barrier to point to and claim importance", but the majority of games journalists, who should act as arbiter for such shenanigans, were lapping it up.

BioShock Infinite was disappointing  not only because it had nothing of value to say, but also because it failed to introduce anything substantially new to the the series' formula. By virtue of the narrative's focus on characters rather than place and ideology, Columbia doesn't hold a torch to Rapture. Tears and Skylines do serve to mix up the combat, but honestly, there are oodles of better first person shooters on the market if all you're wanting to do is shoot some poor fucker in the face. Then there's Elizabeth, the object of much of the Gaming Community's© affection. A lot's been said about Elizabeth and how she makes Infinite a Good Game©, but I offered the following in my review:
Elizabeth is beautiful. She has Anime eyes and she throws you ammo and first aid kits and money and she has feelings too, but her duties on the battlefield and in general exploration come into conflict with her role in the story. Upon learning some of her and Booker's respective sordid personal histories, she's driven to collect more curiosities to interrupt what should be moving moments. Earth-shattering developments are cheapened by the heroine's compulsion to find useful shit. Her expression and mood change by the second and are more unpredictable than her movements, which see her teleporting ahead, behind, generally anywhere other than she's needed to be for the conversation at hand to work as intended. Elizabeth is your companion for most of the game, but she's never really there.  

 For all of my bellyaching, BioShock Infinite was a Good Game©: it was technically impressive and the combat was functional. For all of its false promises, it was a good ride until it ended. That doesn't counter the overwhelming sense of disappointment that came with navigating what "was more a neo-classical poster board for racist and religious slogans than an actual place."

You can find my review of BioShock Infinite here. For my list of the Top 5 games released in the Year of Luigi, click here.