The Cave (XBLA Review)

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

The-Cave-logo

Throughout this console generation we’ve seen a lot of melding of genres; for example, just about every game has some sort of RPG element now. The point and click adventure game is a genre that hasn’t really been involved in this mass melding. We’ve seen Telltale Games change it up a little with The Walking Dead, but now adventure game master Ron Gilbert and Double Fine have decided to try their hand at it. The result is The Cave, an adventure game platformer in which you control a selection of seven characters (though really there’s eight as one “character” is a set of twins) as they enter a sentient cave seeking their heart’s true desire.

After the titular and immensely charming Cave introduces the game, you are presented with a choice. You must select three of the seven playable characters to take on your journey. Each has their own special ability: invincibility for the Knight, telekinesis for the Monk, hacking for the Scientist and so on. These abilities allow each character to enter their own unique region of The Cave, it’s in these themed areas that you will be challenged with helping the characters gain their heart’s desire, for some that means love for others a wondrous treasure. There are also several shared areas that can (and will) be accessed no matter the make up of your party. As you won’t be able to see all seven character’s stories in one run, you will have to repeat these non-specific sections multiple times.

The-Cave-Screen-2

Repetition is the bane of The Cave. If it’s not the entire sections you’ll play multiple times, it’s the frustrating amount of backtracking within each and every section. The ability to skip or streamline these areas in some way would have been welcome. Backtracking is exacerbated by the sub-par platforming and need to constantly switch between characters. As there’s no way to get a character you aren’t directly controlling to follow you, they’ll just have to stand and wait while you move the active character to where they need to be, at which point you have to switch characters and slavishly move to the next spot. In theory co-op might alleviate this issue slightly, but that’s hampered by a single screen camera that is inconsistent in who it focuses on. Platforming just ends up getting in the way of the adventure game aspects. Often you will know exactly what you need to do to complete a puzzle, usually because you’ve done it before, but thanks to the poor platforming it’ll take you far longer than you’d like to execute the solution.

Taking the puzzle solving of an adventure game and replacing the cursor with an avatar you directly control is definitely a smart idea. Heck, platformers have had light puzzle elements almost since their inception. Unfortunately, The Cave slips up on a fundamental part of this: the platforming is bad. Though not the worst platforming ever in a game, it’s clunky, slow and often hard to control. When the core gameplay and navigation mechanic isn’t enjoyable–oftentimes quite the opposite, in fact–you’ve messed up. There’s really no excuse for bad 2D platforming in 2013; Super Mario Bros 3 perfected that stuff well over 20 years ago.

The-Cave-Screen-1

All these shortcomings are made all the more disappointing by the fact it’s immensely charming and well written. As mentioned earlier, The Cave itself (himself?) is great, narrating events with a wonderfully dry, dark wit which sets the tone and atmosphere perfectly. The few other voiced characters you come across are also all very funny, well acted and just generally a lot of fun. Puzzles are also clever and challenging; there are only a few stumpers here and there but you’re certainly likely to stop and scratch your head for a bit at some point. I found myself amused by the cartoon logic many of the puzzles use. Have a battery with no charge? Obviously this pool of water with Electric Eels swimming around in it is exactly what you need.

The Cave is a lovely little world to get lost in, with a beautiful soundtrack, a wonderful art style and writing that’ll constantly make you smile. Unfortunately, playing the game just isn’t fun, simply because it breaks too many fundamental rules. A game should never waste the player’s time, but here we have a game that almost feels designed to do just that, hoping you won’t notice because it made a joke about hot dogs.

Originally published on StickSkills.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Grand Theft Auto V: Lessons Rockstar Needs to Learn (Article)

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

GTAV-Protagonists

Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t like the Grand Theft Auto series. Whoa now, before you start writing that highly offensive comment telling me how wrong I am, hear me out. I don’t like the GTA series, but I really really want to. I’ve tried so hard to like the games; I’ve played almost every title in the series to some extent, I completed GTAIV, I’ve even enjoyed many aspects of the series and had a ton of fun with them.

That being said, I think when it comes down to it, the Grand Theft Auto games could be so much more than they are.

Since GTA IV is the most recent entry in the series, the one I’ve actually played all the way through and the game which GTA V will surely be building on, I’ll be using that as my reference point.

GTAIV-Niko

Grand Theft Auto IV starts off so strong. You’re introduced to Niko, a fairly likable character with a dark past, and his cousin Roman, a man who clearly likes to think he’s more successful than he actually is, but remains endearing despite that. Niko wants a new life, one like Roman’s–free of death and crime. Unfortunately for him, it’s not to be, as Roman’s life has its own paths into the underbelly of Liberty City.

This sets up the game wonderfully, and as you play, you forgive the fact that the shooting isn’t all that great, climbing is clunky, moving Niko around is awkward and numerous other faults the core mechanics of the game have. You overlook those because the story hooks you, because Liberty City feels like a real place–a dense, populated, living city. Evidently, this seems to be the part that garnered the game such rave reviews. Whenever people talked about GTA IV, they always mentioned the amazing feeling of the city, never the actual gameplay.

Fifteen hours later, you are less forgiving. Now all those faults you were overlooking are infuriating; they’re prolonging this game which already feels too long. To top it off, the story starts to go off the rails. You’re given supposed moral choices, which you are seemingly meant to be invested in because they involved characters who are “friends.” But they aren’t, they’re just characters who have been around a while, and proximity to someone, of course, doesn’t make you invested in them. Just because I’ve completed five missions for this character, and seen them in 20 minutes worth of cutscenes, it doesn’t mean I care about them. Niko starts protesting that he’s just doing all this deplorable stuff for the money, so he can have the better life he wants, he doesn’t want to kill anymore. While you look to the corner of the screen and see he has more money than many people make in a year. Then you go murder 100s of men for a few grand, cause Niko really needs that money. Maybe it’s to decorate the several different apartments he now has? Who knows.

GTAV-Pest-control

For some reason, Rockstar has it in its collective head that GTA needs to be a 30-40 hour game. With GTA IV, they made an attempt to go almost completely into a more serious tone, but it didn’t quite work out. At best, the narrative begins to meander off on tangents, at worst it barely makes sense and ends up painting Niko as a complete psychopath  Perhaps it’s because they build this huge world for you to inhabit, and they don’t want all that work to go to waste–the shorter the game, the less exposure to the environment. Whatever the reason, GTA games need to be shorter, or they need to find a solution that allows them to be 30+ hours while not suffering for it. Hopefully GTA V‘s three protagonist route will help to alleviate this. Could that mean we get three super-tight, 10-hour stories? We can but hope.

There’s reason to believe Rockstar can and will improve on this, though. Since GTA IV, we’ve seen them release Red Dead Redemption, a game with a far more coherent and enjoyable story. It managed to tell a long-form story that didn’t overstay its welcome, even if it did trail off a little. Of course, Red Dead also has the benefit of being set in a completely different time period, one in which character motivations are far easier to simplify and make believable. John Marston rarely lost sight of why he kept doing the awful things he was asked to, he wanted his family back, pure and simple. The old west setting, and his background as an outlaw made his actions believable. He was reluctant but didn’t mope about it

One of the most recent and arguably best examples of a story-focused open world game, Sleeping Dogs, proves that you can make a 12-15 hour open world story immensely interesting and satisfying. The story of Wei Shen is intriguing and gripping while also serving up interesting gameplay scenarios, which take him all over the dense city. The narrative and characters do not fall to the same contradictions we see in GTA. Wei does not start complaining about lack of money despite having an abundance of it, he does not start bemoaning all the killing he is being forced to do. In fact, in Sleeping Dogs that last aspect is actually dealt with, as we see Wei start to become affected by what he’s forced to do while undercover.

GTAV-Trunk

Of course, as previously mentioned, the problems with stretching the narrative aren’t the only issue with GTA. There’s also the clunky gameplay, which is pretty unforgivable when you have to deal with it for almost 30 hours. Looking at GTA IV now, it looks downright archaic. When it released it wasn’t great, but in a world with Saints Row: The Third and Sleeping Dogs, the gameplay mechanics in GTA IV feel unplayable. That may be a bit harsh, but the core mechanics are certainly lacking in polish. The driving is probably the most robust part of the game, with shooting and general traversal mechanics being clunky at best.

While Saints Row‘s gunplay and general gameplay are arguably no more robust than GTA‘s, as Volition has iterated on the series it’s learned to put fun first. Which is why we have things like the so-called “awesome” button, which allows players to modify their actions and execute crazy but satisfying moves like jumping through a windshield to steal a car. Then most recently we saw Sleeping Dogs raise the bar by bringing in robust action-game mechanics to the open world genre, with satisfying melee combat, akin to an Arkham Asylum or Assassin’s Creed, and shooting mechanics you might expect to see in something like Max Payne. That’s not to mention more than a few ideas from the underrated Wheelman implemented into to the driving portions of the game. Wouldn’t you much rather have fun while also experiencing a well crafted story? Rather than trudging through mediocre gameplay in the hopes that the fumbling story gets good again.

There’s no arguing the Grand Theft Auto franchise is important. After GTA III especially, the gaming landscape changed. We wouldn’t have those Saints Row: The Thirds and Sleeping Dogs in the world without first having GTA. But it’s a series in danger of forgetting what games are about, so here’s hoping Grand Theft Auto V can manage to be as fun and entertaining as it deserves to be.

Originally published on StickSkills.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: , , ,

Dead Space 3 (Xbox 360 Hands on preview)

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Creepy ambient noises create a tense and scary atmosphere that keeps you on edge. Necromorphs pop out of no where and scare the bejesus out of you. These are the things to be expected in the upcoming Dead Space 3 demo that let you know it’s still very much a Dead Space game. But then there’s the co-op and the fact you are shooting humans in the middle of a brightly lit snowy environment. Do these new elements threaten to ruin the increasingly beloved action-horror franchise?

Dead Space 3

While it’s hard to say from the brief demo, co-op does change the game, quite literally. If you play alone as Isaac then you are alone, there’s no AI buddy alongside you, it’s just regular old Dead Space. If you choose to bring a buddy, then the game’s other protagonist John Carver will always be there, in cutscenes and all. But it doesn’t just change the fact there’s two of you to take on Necromorphs, there’s new dialogue and slight changes to scenarios too. I found myself quite surprised by how differently a scene played out with Carver there. He’s not just along for the ride; he has thoughts, feelings and he isn’t afraid to share them with Isaac. Carver is a much more brash and angry character, a nice contrast to the more reserved Isaac Clark we’re used to. Whether the story as a whole drastically changes remains to be seen, but the moment to moment stuff certainly changes and is made more interesting by Carver’s inclusion. Oh, and it still manages to be scary.

That said, co-op seems like it’ll be a second play-through option for most Dead Space fans. Making it quite a relief to see that playing solo with Isaac still feels as creepy as it always has. Even while trudging through a bright snowy environment, though I’m still unsure on the whole fighting humans thing. Though it was somewhat inevitable in terms of the story, but hopefully it’s not a huge part of the final game.

isaac-snow

Whether playing in co-op or alone, the demo kicks off with Isaac having crashed on the planet of Tau Volantis. The events in the demo aren’t given much context, however. Isaac yells for Ellie, and if playing in co-op he and Carver argue about whether she’s even alive. Other than that though, you’re just moving forward as a blizzard rises and lowers in intensity, making it hard to see more than a few feet in front of you. Which of course is a perfect opportunity for a Necromorph to lunge through the wall of white in front of you. A cheap jump scare tactic, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less scary in the moment.

The demo is fairly straight forward, as you wearily wander from encounter to encounter, afraid to turn every corner or walk too far into the snowstorm. These moments are punctuated by a couple of boss encounters, one involving a rather large Necromorph and the other an even larger malfunctioning drill. Both add the burst of action we’ve come to expect in a Dead Space game, as you have to use all your skill (and Isaac’s abilities) to take care of the situation. The end of the demo, as most demos do, teases an even larger boss encounter. EA and Visceral certainly want you to know the epic spectacle of Dead Space is still in tact, as much as the creepy atmosphere.

isaac-boss

In addition to co-op, the demo highlights another big new feature in Dead Space 3: crafting. Even before jumping into gameplay, you can access weapon crafting from the main menu. Doing so will insert you into a small room with a tool bench and a bunch of resources. After reading through a few tutorial tooltips you’re left to craft and upgrade any weapon you want, and you can even spawn some Necromorphs to test them out on. The combinations on offer, though,  are surprisingly diverse. Fancy a Chain Lightning Gun that also occasionally sets enemies on fire and gives you a powerful melee attack on top of that? Or how about modifying Isaac’s trademark plasma cutter, sacrificing its ability to rotate for a small submachine gun as it’s alt fire? In fact you can easily completely change the nature of the plasma cutter, so it’s not even the same weapon, it’s quite impressive. You’ll even be able to save the blueprints of your favorite new weapons and share them with your co-op buddy. It’s a surprisingly robust and enjoyable feature, allowing players to customize weapons, which have always been one of best parts of Dead Space is very smart.

For those worried that Dead Space 3 would be a huge departure from what the series is known for, this demo should go some way to quelling their panic. While the co-op does change the dynamic quite a bit, it still manages to be creepy and scary. It’s also very much optional, and leaves the core Dead Space experience relatively untouched. If you haven’t nabbed early access, you’ll be able to try the demo out for yourself, but rest assured it looks like EA and Visceral are doing right by the series.

Originally published on StickSkills.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

My favourite games of 2012

January 10, 2013 1 comment

Finally put down some thoughts about my favourite games of 2012. While this list is a top ten of sorts, it is presented in no particular order.

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs

An open world game with competent and fun gameplay mechanics? Surely not! And with a genuinely interesting and engrossing storyline that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome on top of that. Wonderful!

I’m not sure I had more fun with a singleplayer game in 2012. Months after release and long after I’ve finished the story, I’m still booting up Sleeping Dogs just to go beat up a bunch of thugs or just cruise around Honk Kong picking off side missions. Having the options and solid controls of an action game in an open world is quite the revelation.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM

I like the idea of strategy games, but they are notoriously impenetrable, especially to a simple-minded soul like myself. So when XCOM came along, with it’s rad sci-fi skin and deceptively cinematic presentation, I had high hopes.

Niggles aside (though there are many) there’s so much to love in XCOM. From the increasingly tense turn based combat, to the incredibly addictive metagame of the XCOM base. And there’s just so much of both that I’ve still not finished the bloody thing, although restarting the game a couple of times probably has a lot to do with that too…

Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2

No game in 2012 made me laugh as much as Borderlands 2, hell I’m playing it for the third time and still laughing at jokes I’ve already heard. In addition to that Gearbox managed to craft a compelling and surprisingly emotional story which even goes so far as to improve the story of the first game.

Huge improvements to the classes have made the fairly ok combat from the first game an absolute blast this time around. My Siren is a god, just decimating bad guys with her uber powerful Phase Lock. Then there’s all those guns, which are still really cool to discover and use.

Halo 4

Halo 4

I fucking love Halo. Had to be said. It’s a game series which reinvigorated my love of gaming and contains some of my favourite games ever. So needless to say, Halo 4 had a a lot to live up to.

It failed to live up to my expectations, but it did a bloody good job trying. A flawed but fun campaign, with a solid emotional core to the narrative and a multiplayer mode that is again, flawed, but still just as addictive as ever. I’ll be playing it till Halo 5 comes out, and that’s what counts to me.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

The original Alan Wake was fantastic. A very odd story, with unique characters and a refreshing take on the shooter concept.

American Nightmare takes all that, condenses it, refines the gameplay and then adds in some of my favourite music of 2012 (even outside of games music) to make one of my favourite gaming experiences of the year. Mr Scratch is a scary bastard too. Fuck.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Two games made me cry this year, one was Mass Effect 3. Which got that reaction from me because of 100s of hours of investment across three games. The second was The Walking Dead, which managed to get an even bigger reaction after only 15 hours or so.

Amazing writing, equally fantastic voice acting and gameplay which consisted of giving moral choices which were never clear cut all came together to make one of the most emotional, and emotionally draining games I have ever played. The fact a video game made me feel, really feel, now that’s something.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3

Say what you will about the ending of Mass Effect 3 (it wasn’t great) but it’s such a small part of the game, of the series, that I just can’t let it soil my love of the game.

It’s so easy to look at something and think about what it could’ve been. I look at what we actually got though: a refined, beautiful and still absorbing Mass Effect. And I’m ok with that. As I went to talk all the friends I’d made before the final battle, knowing we were saying goodbye, regardless of what happened next, my heart ached. These were characters I’d grown to love over multiple games, and saying goodbye was hard, that’s what I take away from Mass Effect 3.

Journey

Journey

An experience unlike anything else, I will never forget travelling through the beautiful world of Journey.

It’s an experience filled with triumph, exhilaration and despair. Which is quite a ranger, considering how deceptively simple the game actually is. Something that everyone should experience.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic

It may have come out in late 2011 but it’s for that very reason that The Old Republic ended up being one of my most played games of 2012. And one of my favourites too.

I can, and do, knock it for being a little too traditional in it’s execution but even with that, the addition of that trademark BioWare presentation is what hooked me. But it is worth noting, for as unoriginal as the gameplay is, it’s still a lot of fun and completely solid. Being able to play through a traditional BioWare RPG for hundreds of hours with friends though? That’s just awesome.

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger

This is my one cheat on this list. I’ve played an hour or so of Chrono Trigger in the past, but it wasn’t till the iOS version that I actually delved into this absolutely wonderful JRPG.

Now I’m not usually a fan of the turn based combat found in most JRPGs but the less random and more active nature of the combat in Chrono Trigger really grabbed me. You have to pay attention, you have to get involved and you definitely can’t take your eye of the ball, even for a second. Then there’s the epic, time travel story with a huge cast of endearing and interesting characters which kept me up till the early hours, hunched over my phone in bed. Oh, and have you heard the music? Holy shit.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Honorable mentions: Asura’s Wrath, Binary Domain, Spelunky, Diablo 3, Syndicate, Rock Band Blitz, Dark Souls, Dead or Alive 5, SSX, Minecraft, FTL, Trials Evolution, Mark of the Ninja, Awesomenauts

Mass Effect 3: Omega (Xbox 360 DLC Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

ME3 Omega 1

It has to be tough making new story content for a game with a narrative that’s already come to a close. And yet that’s what BioWare is doing with Mass Effect 3. Leviathan was the first attempt and was mostly successful thanks to some fairly large lore revelations. BioWare Montreal–currently in pre-production with the next entry in the franchise–has produced the second piece of content: “Omega.” It’s fair less grand in scope than Leviathan, but promises to deliver a large chunk of content all the same. Unfortunately the context of its release may make it less appealing to anyone not currently in the middle of a playthrough.

“Omega” picks up a story thread that was left hanging in Mass Effect 3. In a side quest, Commander Shepard aided former Omega ruler Aria T’loak gain allies to help her take back the titular asteroid-turned-space-station. Between Mass Effect 2 and 3, Cerberus has taken over the station and Aria has fled to the Citadel. Once you helped her out, though, there was no pay-off to that particular side quest; you got your war assets and whatnot, but Omega remained under Cerberus control. You certainly couldn’t go there.

Until now.

BioWare has been talking a big talk with “Omega,” likening it more to an expansion pack than the more traditional DLC content we’ve become used to. It even has a price tag that implies it’s more content rich, but it’s not. The new chapter contains three hours of content at most. That’s about average for Mass Effect story DLC, and it’s certainly nowhere near what one would expect from an expansion. It’s a shame, because the content that is here is actually a lot of fun: very action-heavy, with a few Dead Space-esque sequences that enhance the atmosphere. You’ll also get some more insight into the character of Aria, thanks to the introduction of a female Turian named Nyreen. Their relationship is a complicated one, which you’ll discover the details of as they join your squad throughout the mission on Omega. None of your regular crew, it turns out, makes the trip.

In “Omega, you’ll see a different side of the station than you did in Mass Effect 2, as the areas you visited then are partially under the control of Cerberus. A lot of time is spent in small, darkened rooms, as Aria and her rag-tag army devise a plan to take Omega back. Some of Aria and Nyreen’s compatriots will also task you with the very few side quests available in this DLC, all of which you’ll complete as you follow the course of the main mission. For a space station that’s built into an asteroid ,BioWare managed to provide a lot of visual variety as you travel through abandon mine shafts and facilities. Unfortunately, some of the more impressive environments also suffer from frame rate issues (at least on the 360 version), although these moments are (thankfully) outside of combat.

ME3 Omega 2

It’s hard not to compare “Omega” to Mass Effect 3‘s first piece of story DLC, Leviathan. That DLC also came out a good while after the game, even after the Extended Cut content. But because it was about a very specific and ultimately pretty important part of the overall Mass Effect lore, it was far more enjoyable as a standalone piece. “Omega” feels like it needs to be played as part of a full Mass Effect 3 playthrough to be enjoyed. That way you can wrap up the story thread with Aria, get a bunch of new war assets and weapons, then carry on with your mission to defeat the Reapers. As it is, most people will play through “Omega” and then take Mass Effect 3 out of their systems until the next DLC is released.

Taken on its own, the “Omega” DLC for Mass Effect 3 is a pretty cool piece of content. But when you start to think about it in context–the price, the length and how far removed it is from the release of the main game–it starts to look a little different. These factors add up and make “Omega” look like a bit of a bum deal.

Originally published on StickSkills.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: , ,

The Walking Dead – Episode 1: A New Day (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The-Walking-Dead-A-New-Day-1

Zombie games: They’re nothing new; some may even argue they’re overdone. We even have our fair share on XBLA already. The vast majority of games featuring zombies use the shambling undead as cannon fodder, the thing players need to mow down with a machine gun to progress.

With The Walking Dead, Telltale Games looks to do something a little different. Much like the comic series it’s based on, this isn’t about killing all zombies in your way, it’s a story about people. What do we do when society collapses and the dead come back to life? It’s a question that’s been the crux of some of the best zombie movies, but one that often falls by the wayside when it comes to games.

So if you’re expecting a game where you must survive the zombie apocalypse by aiming down the sights of your pistol and getting some headshots, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Walking Dead is a fairly traditional point and click adventure game; while you do have direct control over the main character most of your interaction with the world will be through an onscreen cursor or making dialogue choices.

The-Walking-Dead-A-New-Day-2

Here’s what we liked:

Characters you believe in – During the roughly 2-3 hour experience that makes up this first episode you play as Lee, an apparently convicted felon who was on his way to jail when the world started going to hell. During the course of the episode you’ll learn more about his past, but we’ll have to wait for more episodes to find out the whole truth. Whether he’s guilty or not, Lee seems to be a good guy, though you can of course turn him into a bit of a jerk if you want. As the story progresses Lee meets more and more survivors, from a possibly orphaned little girl to an already-established group who have taken refuge in a drugstore. Every character you meet is well-defined, and aside from a few inconsistencies (more on that later), behave in a completely believable way. It makes it easy to get lost in the situation and feel real tension when you are posed with a moral dilemma, or even just having a regular conversation.

Lee & Clementine – Very soon after the game’s opening, Lee meets Clementine. She has been hiding in her treehouse since things went bad; her parents are out of town (and could be dead) and her babysitter has succumbed to the zombie outbreak. Lee takes it upon himself to look after her, though they often seem to be looking after each other. The relationship dynamic between Lee and Clem is by far the most impressive part of The Walking Dead. Wonderfully acted, written and entirely believable, it is a joy to experience. Children in video games are so rarely anything more than an annoyance; not only is Clementime not annoying, she’s charming, tough and arguably smarter than some of the adults you meet. Telltale have managed to make something really special here and should be commended for it.

The zombie apocalypse ain’t fun – Don’t let the unique comic book illustration-esque art style fool you,The Walking Dead is just as nasty and brutal as its comic and television counterparts. People will swear loudly in your face and tell you exactly what they’re thinking and when you kill zombies you won’t feel good about it. Unlike other zombie games, your kill count in Walking Dead won’t reach double digits in a hurry. There are a few big kills throughout the first episode and they are bound to make you uncomfortable. Telltale do a great job of making you smash that hammer into a zombie’s skull just a few too many times. Lingering on your handiwork just a little longer than you’d like, it adds a lot to the already pretty intense action sequences.

The-Walking-Dead-A-New-Day-4

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Technical issues – With all their episodic games Telltale have been working with variations of the same game engine, and unfortunately it isn’t especially robust. Transitions between actions are often occompanied with a brief pause which often breaks the flow of some of the more action-focused moments. We also experienced some noticable dips in framerate during some of the more open areas of the game, though fortunately it never impacted any conversation or action moments so it can be easily forgiven.

Writing inconsistencies – The writing is no doubt the best part of Episode I, but it is not without its issues. There are several prominent moments where characters act or speak in a way which doesn’t make much sense and is wholly in service of gameplay. Perhaps the most infuriating example of this is when one character is made to look incredibly moronic just to give players a “puzzle” to solve. Carley is a reporter and a crack shot with the pistol she always carries, but she apparently doesn’t know what a battery looks like or how to use them. She asks Lee to help her fix a radio, only for him to discover it doesn’t have any a batteries. No one is thinking straight these days so it’s easy to overlook. Lee gets the batteries and hands them to Carley. When he comes back later the darn radio still isn’t working, so he takes another look. Turns out Carley put the batteries in backwards. The puzzle aspect isn’t challenging or fun and the whole sequence does nothing but make Carley look incredibly stupid. It sadly isn’t the only example of this sort of puzzle before dialogue issue; we really hope this aspect of the game is handled better in later episodes.

The-Walking-Dead-A-New-Day-3

A game in which the gameplay consists mostly of conversation and decision-making may not be for everyone. That said, The Walking Dead is fantastic, with a well-told story with believable characters and surprisingly intense and grisly action scenes. Even if you are unsure, we highly recommend you at least try it out. However if the idea of a zombie game that’s about more than headshots sounds good to you then there’s no doubt you need to play The Walking Dead.

Score: Buy it!

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

The Walking Dead – Episode 2: Starved For Help (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The Walking Dead Ep 2 Screen 1

With the first episode of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games gave us something very special. It was a game with a compelling story in which choice mattered. You cared enough about the believable characters and world they had created that the decisions were never easy.

We thought Episode 1 was pretty amazing so Episode 2, Starved For Help, had a lot to live up to. If you’re reading this then you probably already played the first episode, and you will have to own it to play this one. You’ll be pleased to know Telltale has not only met the expectations set by the first episode but easily exceeded them.

Here’s what we liked:

Simple but effective gameplay – As is to be expected, the core mechanics of The Walking Dead remain the same. You have control over Lee’s movement as well as an onscreen context-sensitive cursor. There are less puzzles this time round, and certainly no bafflingly stupid battery incidents, instead there’s a bigger focus on action. This means more quick-time-event sequences, which are used in increasingly smart methods. One extended sequence near the end of the game perfectly illustrates this, connecting you with the action in a very physical way.

Harrowing – The Walking Dead is about as adult as video games get, and Starved For Help takes that idea to new, horrifying places. This is not a game for the faint of heart. In addition to the agonizing choices you’ll make, there are scenes of graphic violence that will have you averting your eyes. This all adds up to give this episode an incredibly tense and paranoia-fueled atmosphere that makes you think twice about continuing.

Unpredictable – You may have finished the first episode and thought “yeah I can see where the next episode is going”, well we can almost guarantee you won’t have expected this. The main plot thread does become obvious after a while, or at least it did to us. But even then the game is littered with shocking and unpredictable moments. It makes every decision you make feel all the more important because you just don’t know what will happen next. What might have seemed like the safest option may lead to you fighting for your life, or put someone else in danger.

Fantastic writing – Once again the writing here is outstanding, though there are still a few inconsistencies present. We wish the writers didn’t feel the need to have characters tell you to “come see me when you’re ready”. But we’re nitpicking, this is still one of the best written games around, with believable characters that are just getting richer with each episode.

The Walking Dead Ep 2 Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Technical issues – We critiqued the first episode, A New Day, for showing the limitations of Telltale’s engine. Sadly Starved For Help does nothing to fix these issues, in fact they seem to be getting worse. As Telltale tries to do more elaborate things with their engine, it shows the strain even more prevalently. The brief pauses and hitches when transitioning between action scenes are still there and now there are also numerous audio anomalies, including syncing issues and stuttering. While these issues are definitely a problem worth noting, it speaks to the quality of the rest of the game that they detract very little from the experience.

Some choices don’t matter – As impressive as it is that big decisions you make, like who lived or died, carry over we can’t help being disappointed that some things happen no matter what. There are a few examples of this in Starved For Help, choices you are presented with that don’t change the outcome. If you only play through the game once you’ll never know, it’s just a shame that those replaying to see other outcomes will be left wanting.

The Walking Dead Ep 2 Screen 3

With this series Telltale set out to make a zombie game that was more about people than the undead monsters they’re running from. We’re now two episodes in to this five episode season and we’d say they’ve executed on that idea almost perfectly.

Games are meant to be fun, sure, but they are also meant to elicit an emotional response. The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved for Help will take your emotions for quite a ride; you may not enjoy yourself during certain parts of that ride, but you’ll be glad you took it. We can’t wait to play the other episodes, but we must express some trepidation towards what heinous things Telltale have in store.

Score: Buy It

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,