Yar’s Revenge (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Yars’ Revenge was one of the best selling games on the Atari 2600, making it somewhat of a puzzle why it has taken so long to come back. To the modern player of games it would appear very simple and, of course, being from that era it is just that, but for some reason it found an audience. The goal was to take out your enemy, an alien known as Qotile, which involved getting through its shield using the weapons at your disposal. Atari have decided to give the game the “reimagining” treatment and have put developer Killspace Entertainment at the helm.

Yar’s Revenge on XBLA sees you facing off against many Qotile, rather than just the one from the original. The game is no longer a single screen shooter either but has been transformed into an on-rails affair akin to Sin & Punishment or Rez.

Since the game is on-rails, Killspace Entertainment always know what you’re looking at, which means they have focused a lot of effort on the art. As a result, there are plenty of very impressive (but perhaps not very varied) painted backgrounds. Lots of lovely cloudy vistas to take in as you fly through levels. The design of Yar herself is also great, a simple but interesting mixture of insectoid robot and slightly generic anime girl.

In contrast, the six or seven enemy designs in the game are dull and uninspired. Plus anything that isn’t part of the background looks plain bad. Low-res textures, poorly animated enemies (even the bosses) and visual effects lacking any flair or substance make Yar’s Revenge feel very low budget. Each enemy is constantly repeated throughout the levels with occasional colour changes to add a little variety. This wouldn’t be quite as big an issue if the unique types of enemy had differing or interesting attack patterns. While the painted backgrounds are great to look at, the same can’t be said for the rest of the game.

Yar has three main weapons: A pulse laser, railgun and missiles. The railgun has a cooldown time and the missiles have limited ammo (which can be replenished from pick-ups). Points and multipliers are what drive Yar’s Revenge; as enemies are dispatched the multiplier climbs. The strategy comes in knowing when to take out enemies. There are often brief lulls in combat which will leave just enough time for the multiplier to tick down to zero. So the battles become a balancing act of staying alive while trying not to clear the screen too quickly. When to use the game’s several power-ups also figures into this, especially the shield as using it means Yar can’t fire any weapons. All these options during combat make the gameplay a bit more interesting than it initially appears.

To beat all six of Yar’s Revenge‘s levels will take a couple of hours, max. With very few deaths and enough continues that you won’t be forced to restart the level, it doesn’t take very long to get into the rhythm of knowing which weapon to use and when. Challenge seems to have been shifted to figuring out the multiplier system with the actual combat taking a backseat.

It’s difficult to call Yar’s Revenge a bad game, it’s just very mediocre. Killspace have tried to add replay value by making the main modes all about high score. But when the gameplay is so boring and lacking in challenge, it’s hard to see anyone caring enough. The ideas behind Yar’s Revenge are good but the execution is lacking, whether that’s due to a lack of budget or some other unknown reason. While it’s cheap and easy to get hold of, there are far better examples of this type of game available elsewhere.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Dash Race (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dash RaceThe App Store description for Dash Race notes that it is based on “a popular paper game that can be played everywhere at anytime”. So that begs the question, why would you bother paying for an iPhone/iPad app version of it? To save paper of course! Ok, that’s perhaps not the best way to sell a game but thankfully there are more reasons to consider giving Dash Race a go.

The premise for Dash Race is harder to explain than it is to actually understand. Your vehicle is represented by a series of lines (or dashes if you will) and crosses. The “track” is overlaid on graph paper, the game uses various rules to take in to account speed and all that jazz. You don’t have to worry too much about the background stuff but by thinking ahead you can try and determine how fast to go to take the next corner with minimal fuss. This is done by choosing how much you will extend the line representing where you will travel to next. It sounds a bit complicated but once you’ve taken your turn a couple of times the idea soon clicks.

The “rules” of Dash Race take a little time to figure out but there’s a surprising depth to them which isn’t immediately clear. They inspire a somewhat foolish overconfidence which quite easily results in many, many crashes. This is of course the likely scenario for everyone and not just the rather simple person writing this review. Ahem.

Once the games complexity reveals itself there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from the races. Despite the fairly low-fi presentation, a close race can be just as tense to watch as the real thing, you’ll soon forget you’re just watching a few colourful lines on virtual graph paper. Up to four vehicles can be involved in a race (controlled by AI or other people) and those are usually the most exciting races to be had. It might sound crazy to say a game about graph paper can be exciting but it really can be! As two or three of you try to squeeze around one corner at a time, leaving one of you with no choice but to risk slamming into a wall by taking the turn far too wide.

Dash Race is certainly not for everyone, it’s a tactical racing game which aside from sounding a bit weird is not an idea many will want to give a go. But if you think you can use your imagination to turn those little crosses and dashes into high-speed automobiles hurtling down a racetrack then you may just want to check this one out. Don’t forget you’ll be saving on a ton of paper too, the trees will thank you for it.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Battleheart (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Role playing games on iOS often have trouble trying to balance the fact they are on a mobile device with the in-depth nature of the genre. Some developers disregard this concern and go all in, making an RPG much like those you would find on PC or a home console. Then there are games like Battleheart which simplify the formula while still keeping some of that much needed depth.

Battleheart sets players up with a team of up to four characters who must defeat evil forces – the usual fantasy stuff. The make-up of this party is entirely up to the player. There are a handful of classes to choose from, each with their own speciality. Clerics heal, Barbarians deal damage, Wizards specialise in magic and so on. You can mix and match the classes as you see fit, and new recruits can be found at the Tavern to bolster your ranks if you fancy a change. It allows for a good bit of variety and often requires a rethinking of tactics.

Once you have your team assembled, it’s off to battle. During the game’s fights, each character is controlled directly. It’s a simple case of placing your finger over the character and dragging them to the enemy you wish to attack or the place you want them to move to. It’s an incredibly intuitive control method and allows the screen to remain relatively free of any clutter. There are some issues when characters get too close together, making it difficult for the game to determine who you are trying to control. In addition to basic attacks, each class has special abilities, which you can access by tapping on that specific character. Stronger abilities are unlocked as your characters level up, which they do individually by gaining experience points for each battle.

This is the crux of Battleheart, at certain points of the game you will come across a stage – perhaps containing a stronger boss character – which will prove more difficult than previous battles. In order to best the level, you will have to replay earlier stages to gain more experience points and improve your characters. The game is all about upgrading, whether it’s your party members or the equipment they use. It can sometimes become a grind but it’s a testament to the core gameplay that it takes a long time for that grind to set in. In fact, if played in short bursts, the grind may never set in at all.

The visuals in Battleheart are gorgeous, the art style is simple but executed perfectly. Coupled with fluid animation, it’s a wonder to look at. The entire game, from menus to characters, looks sharp and expertly crafted. They give the game a great deal of charm and personality.

Battleheart is perfect for those looking to get an RPG fix on the go, without having to worry about an intricate story or a ton of complicated gameplay systems. Even with its minor control niggles there’s plenty of fun to be had, from the battle system and the lure of one more battle to level up that Wizard.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360 Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Deadly PremonitionDeadly Premonition is an open world action-adventure with a distinctly Japanese bent. Taking control of FBI Agent Francis York Morgan, call him York, you have been sent to the rural town of Greenvale to investigate a murder. As you might imagine there’s a little more to the murder, which is why York has been called in. Agent York himself is a very odd man too, constantly talking to someone called Zack, who isn’t actually there.

Deadly Premonition is clearly a budget title: Awkward animation is bizarre and jarring in an age of motion capture and fluid, hand animated characters. That said there’s an admirable ambition behind everything in Deadly Premonition. For example you’ll get into cars often and be both amazed and amused to discover it has working indicators and window wipers which don’t have any practical use in the game.

The most fun you’ll have playing is when you’re wandering around the town of Greenvale, talking to the residents and discovering bizarre little secrets. When you won’t be having fun are the times you have to put up with the games serviceable (but lacking) shooting mechanics and some of the worst quick time events ever created.

Deadly Premonition is not a shooter, no one would ever claim it is, but the shooting sections are so long and prominent that they can’t be ignored. They just aren’t satisfying and seem to exist solely to add variety and length. It’s hard not to feel that the time that went into making these sections [and adding working window wipers – Ed] could’ve been applied to expanding on the adventure and exploration aspects of the game. Or having more ways to interact with and experience the world of Deadly Premonition would be welcome. In reality even those sections of the game are marred by a painfully methodical pace. It turns what could be an enjoyable and interesting experience into a draining grind.

If you’re someone who is partial to a bit of offbeat storytelling and like the sound of an anime version of Twin Peaks, with an extra dosing of pop culture references then you’ll probably love Deadly Premonition. But if you’re someone who would rather have a fairly straightforward narrative and doesn’t like long meandering dialogue sequences about Jaws or the merits of DVD extras, this might not be for you. To its credit the voice acting in the game is pretty good (if a bit heavy on the ham) and the dialogue is often quite funny, although it isn’t always clear if that’s the intention though.

If there’s something you’re not likely to see discussed it’s the audio mix of a game, meaning the volumes of the different audio aspects. The music in Deadly Premonition is at such a volume it overpowers everything else; make dialogue nearly impossible to hear without adjusting settings. It’s a shame because it detracts from one of the games best bits, the music itself. Perhaps those making the game realised this and decided to make sure everyone would pay it more attention, either way it is a glaring and baffling error and definitely one worth noting.

Deadly Premonition represents a problem that is far too common in games with interesting stories and concepts; the actual game part is a bit rubbish. This proves even more problematic as the story, characters, setting and general tone are only going to appeal to a niche audience to begin with. Putting that stuff behind a wall of broken game mechanics and monotony makes it’s appeal dwindle to the point of insignificance.

When it comes down to it as interesting and crazy as the story may be, it just isn’t enough to eleviate the rest of the games mediocrity.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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They came from the deep (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

They came from the deepWhen looking at They Came From The Deep it would be unfair not to take into account how it was created. Birmingham City University are currently offering a “Gamer Camp” course, this game was created by some students on the one month “Nano” version. With the first week being pure tuition, this means the game was created in around three weeks.

They Came From The Deep is a tower defence game, very similar in style to the incredibly popular Plants vs Zombies from developer Popcap. Enemies, in this case sea creatures rather than zombies, stroll slowly from the right side of the screen to the left. It’s up to you to use the various defences at your disposal to stop them. You must collect treasure coins which randomly appear on the beach to pay for your various contraptions. Deciding when to stockpile them for a more powerful defence and when to go on a spending spree is the key to success.

As one might expect from a game created in just under 3 weeks, They Came From The Deep isn’t as refined and polished as Plants vs Zombies. That being said it is mightily impressive in it’s execution. The art in the game is simple but surprisingly high quality, with some lovely painted backdrops and charming enemy designs.

Gameplay can be a bit slow to ramp up, a problem which Plants vs Zombies suffered from too. Since each level starts from scratch you’ll have to amass your stockpile coins again and rebuild all your defences, which is fine except this means each level takes around a minute or so to really get going. The pace of the game in general is very slow, even when there are a lot of enemies on screen there’s rarely a sense of urgency. Whether that suits you or not will be down to the individual player but impatient players probably won’t appreciate it.

They Came From The Deep feels very much like a proof of concept, it’s short and doesn’t really end, rather once you get to the end of the last level it just stops. That being said, as a showcase of what can be done in less than 3 weeks it’s very impressive indeed. It’s easy to imagine the potential outcomes if these students were given a little more time and resources. The app is free so there’s no reason not to check it out.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Catherine (Xbox 360 Hands on preview)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

CatherineThe recent entries in the Persona series have gained a rather large cult following on Playstation 2 and PSP. Their blend of quirky high school relationship sim and traditional Japanese RPG managed to find more success than one might expect. Of course anyone who has played the games can see the appeal. Charming characters, an intriguing, if uniquely Japanese, story and solid RPG mechanics. Many are waiting in eager anticipation for the inevitable announcement of Persona 5 for current gen consoles. However while they wait the Persona team has been hard at work on a very different game.

Catherine is essentially a puzzle game but to present it as nothing more than that would be a disservice. In the game you play as Vincent, a 32 year old guy who has been dating his girlfriend Katherine for many years (he can’t quite remember how many though). Katherine thinks it’s about time they thought about marriage and settling down. Vincent isn’t so sure he’s ready to take that step. If that wasn’t enough for Vincent to think about, he soon meets Catherine. He wakes up in bed with her the next morning with no memory of what happened.

It’s a subject matter you rarely find in video games, often relationships are side stories which you can all but ignore. In Catherine however Vincent’s relationship crisis is set to be the main drive of the narrative. There are some hints at a more sinister subplot but it remains to be seen how much of an impact that has. The main thrust of the story definitely looks to focus on the love triangle of Vincent, Katherine and Catherine.

The other unique aspect of Catherine is that the bulk of the gameplay comes in the form of block puzzles. Presented as Vincents nightmares, you must guide him (in nothing but his boxer shorts) from the bottom of a tower of blocks to the top. In order to do so you will have to pull and push individual blocks to create steps for Vincent to climb. All the while a grotesque monster-like version of Katherine climbs up from below and if she catches you it’s game over. The preview levels were only available on Easy difficulty, which didn’t provide too large a challenge. These also appeared to be from very early in the game, later puzzles promise more variety and different block types to increase the puzzles complexity.

You will be able to interact with Vincent’s world while he’s awake too, mostly The Stray sheep, the bar where he hangs out. No block puzzles here though, well aside from an arcade game found there. You can also chat to people in said bar, both friends and just fellow customers. While there you’ll also receive text messages, which you can reply to. There are a few different lines to choose from, each with their own implications. Whichever response you select will have an affect on both Vincent and the person you’re replying to.

The only big barrier to entry Catherine has is that it’s wrapped in a Persona-esque anime aesthetic. This isn’t for everyone, so while some may be interested by the games themes and story the distinctly Japanese wrapper could put them off.

While the puzzle game element being the bulk of the gameplay is somewhat baffling, it’s the themes and subject matter that make Catherine so interesting. The promise of a game where the conflict is a mans struggle with an emotional relationship crisis is unique to say the least. Whether the full version of Catherine ends up as compelling as the demo suggests, it’s certainly commendable to see a developer put out something so mature and different.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Poopocalypse (XBLIG Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

PoopocalypseWhen a developer chooses to name their game Poopocalypse one can safely assume it isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously. That’s definitely the case here, as you take control of an especially chubby pigeon and proceed to defecate on just about everything. Not without reason, as the opening cut scene self-seriously explains. The reason said pigeon is so overweight is because people have been feeding him. Now someone has put a ban on feeding and this pigeon is not pleased. So of course the only course of action is to poop – on everything.

This is a game though, so there’s a little more point to pooping – high score! By aiming your bird’s butt at certain objects you will gain points and increase your multiplier. There’s a variety of objects to poop on, from the classic human to bicycles and kites. Then there are the landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty, which will give you a significant points and multiplier boost.

Going from the left side of the screen to the right while pooping on the many poop-worthy objects can be a surprisingly tense affair. As the best way to keep your multiplier going is to go as fast as possible, obstacles such as hot air balloons and planes will be much harder to dodge. Even those high-stakes landmarks can be dangerous when you are flying toward them at high speed.

Much like the best Xbox Live Indie Games, Poopocalypse‘s strength is in its charming (if mildly vulgar) premise that is surrounded by an equally endearing aesthetic. The game has a silhouetted art style that works extremely well and allows for minimal animation which doesn’t look out of place or cheap. Then there’s the over-the-top – and what can only be described as ‘rockin’’ – soundtrack, you’ll want to keep the title screen on for a while and mosh it up in front of your telly.

For 80 Microsoft Points Poopocalypse is a great little game for those looking for a quick five minute palette cleanser in between the meatier Deus Exs of this world.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Prey 2 (Preview)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Prey 2In a packed conference hall at Eurogamer Expo 2011, Prey 2 Project Lead, Chris Reinhart begins his presentation by talking about Prey 2‘s connection to the original game. He asks how many in the crowd have played the first game, the number of raised hands is more than one might expect. He reminds everyone of a moment during Prey where players could see a plane being raided by alien slavers. Killian Samuels, Prey 2‘s main character, was on that plane.That’s not the only thing that connects the two games, Chris assured everyone that Tommy (the first game’s protagonist) will be an important part of the story in Prey 2.


With that out of the way we get straight into gameplay, Chris has started up the beginning of the game. The flaming wreckage of the plane is strewn around, he makes his way toward the cockpit to check for survivors. On the way he explains that Killian is an Air Marshall and as such he was allowed a gun on the plane. It’s here we see one of the more unique aspects of Prey 2, your gun is holstered by default. Chris explains that they original had the gun out by default but it seemed strange to be sticking a weapon in people’s faces and not have them react. So they decided they would make taking out your gun a conscious decision and one which has consequences.

Killian quickly encounters some bad guys, we get a brief glimpse of the games basic combat but Chris wants to move the demo along so he runs past the majority of the enemies. Once he finds the cockpit Killian is ambushed by the slavers and swiftly knocked out. As we wait for the next part of the demo to load, Chris explains that after these events Killian wakes up on an alien world called Exodus. It’s a couple of years later and he has no idea how he got there or what he has been doing in the interim. Well, he does remember he became a bounty hunter, as you do. He decides to continue his bounty hunter duties while trying to discover what happened in that lost time.


The next section of the demo loaded, we are now about 25% into the game and on Exodus. It’s a beautiful world, bringing to mind a Blade Runner influenced Coruscant. Bright neon signs contrast with the dark and grimy streets. Various species of alien go about their business, nefarious or otherwise. Even at this early stage Prey 2 is very visually impressive, the world has a very lived in look.

Chris wastes no time in showing off the games new traversal system, those familiar with Mirrors Edge should have a fair idea of what to expect here. Killian can slide (right into cover even), vault over obstacles, hang from ledges and climb various parts of the enviroment. All of these things can be done in the middle of combat too, so you can hang from a ledge and pop your head up to take a few shots at persuing enemies. Or like a moment we see in the demo, you can vault from cover, quickly take out one enemy then immediately slide across the floor and take out his buddy. It makes for some exciting and fast paced combat, you can certainly see why the team at Human Head are calling it “agile combat”.


Chris pulls up a menu which lists some of the bounty missions available. He takes a mission to track down an alien called Dra’gar, but first he needs to talk to an informant to find out where Dra’gar might be. To get to this informant, Krux, Killian has to do some climbing. But first, some hovering! If all his climbing abilities aren’t quite enough Killian has hover boots which can help with some of those bigger jumps one is likely to attempt in a futuristic alien city.

When we reach Crux he has some muscle around to protect him, in the form of a burly alien, he says he’ll give Killian the info in exchange for some cash. Chris decides he doesn’t want to pay Krux so he shoots his bodyguard and then points the gun at Krux’s head. Krux reluctantly gives up the info but says Killian will now owe him one down the line.

As Chris heads toward the nightclub where Dra’Gar is apparently hanging out he takes the chance to show off Killian’s visor. It has several different modes, the most useful of which is its scan. Scan acts very similarly to detective mode in Arkham Asylum, it will highlight people in different colours depending on their threat level. Green for neutral, yellow for those who could become hostile and red for the most assuredly hostile. Blue is also used to highlight your target, making them easier to pick out amongst the crowd. We also get a glimpse of a couple more visor modes, lumisight (night vision) and DNA tracking which can be used in some missions to track suspects.


When he finally reaches the nightclub and gets eyes on Dra’Gar, Chris decides to sneak up on him and hopefully talk to him. Unforunately Dra’Gar isn’t in a talk mood and heads straight for the door, at which point we see he has the ability to teleport. This makes it very easy for him to put a bunch of henchmen between himself and Killian. It’s also a great excuse to show off more of Killian’s gadgets, such as the super powerful shoulder-mounted rockets. They make short work of the henchmen, and the chase continues. Chris catches up to Kra’Gar and tries to catch him with Killian’s bandolier, a device that snares enemies in energy bands, Kra’Gar quickly teleports out of it though.

Eventually Kra’Gar runs out of places to run, so he offers Killian money to let him go. Despite it being more than the bounty on Kra’Gar’s head Chris decides to turn him in. Here we see how bounties are dealt with, before being transported (teleported) to the client Killian can interoggate the prisoner. This could lead to more information about other missions, but push to hard and it could also lead to a dead bounty.

Prey 2 is a huge departure from the first game, were it not for the inclusion of Tommy it could quite easily be a completely new franchise. While I didn’t get hands on, the new mechanics all looked very impressive, fluid and fun. If the final games missions and world can be suitably filled out then Prey 2 could easily be one of the stand out games when it releases next year.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360 hands on preview)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Call of DutyIt is somewhat expected at this point that any first person shooter worth its salt won’t just have story based campaign and competitive multiplayer modes to keep us entertained. No, they now also need some kind of co-operative mode. One which involves getting together with some friends to hunker down and take on wave afer wave of increasingly difficult enemies. It may not have been the first but Gears of War particularly popularised the idea with its extremely fun and engaging Horde mode.

Past Call of Duty games have had slightly similar modes. Of course there’s the ever popular zombie mode, which is the most directly comparable to Horde. The Modern Warfare sub-series did things a little differently though, they had Spec Ops. These were small co-op missions each with their own objectives and unique environments, although some were similar to missions from the games campaign modes. This mode will return in Modern Warfare 3 but it will also be joined by a new Survival Mode, which is what I recently had a chance to play.

Survival Mode, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, sees one or two players face off against wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. While a straight copy of Horde mode with Call of Duty’s shooting system could be fun, there are a few differences to make this system a little more interesting. As you progress and kill enemies you and your partner will earn cash, each having your own pool. This can be used to purchase weapons, equipment and upgrades at several terminals scattered around the map.

I only had access to the weapons station at first, but as the game progressed the other ones unlocked and appeared on the map. One for equipment and a final for special killstreak-esque unlocks. The weapon station allows you to purchase different guns and also upgrade them with the usual red dot sights and all the add-ons you’ve grown to expect in Call of Duty games. The equipment station is much the same but for things like claymores and grenades, you are also free to keep what you already have and just use the stations to restock ammo. This will conserve your money for the final, and I’d argue, most fun station.

When I played the Survival Mode, I was lucky enough to be paired with a player who was of broadly equal skill to myself; which meant we managed to last a little longer than most. This allowed me to use that last upgrade station a few times. At the station you can purchase what are essentially killstreak rewards, like those you find in competitive multiplayer. So you can get an airstrike or a helicopter to come in and clean up the enemies for you. My personal favourite was the ability to call in Delta squad, a group of marines who drop down from an attack helicopter and fight alongside you. It made the whole thing feel more like a mission from the campaign, with a large scale firefight breaking out in place of the tense back to the wall encounters we’d been having up till then.

The ability to purchase upgrades so readily made the mode feel like an accelerated version of the multiplayer. Within a few waves I’d already ditched my starting weapons for superior replacements and decked them out with a red dot sight and grenade launcher. It gave a much greater feeling of progression than just seeing the wave number increase.

Much like Spec Ops the Survival Mode is limited to two players, which is unfortunate as half the fun of these types of modes is the atmosphere created by having a group of friends playing together. That said, it is a great addition to the usual Call of Duty package and it should definitely be a lot of fun.

Originally Published on Square-Go.com

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Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360 hands on preview)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Mass Effect 3The original Mass Effect was a great game with some significant but easy to overlook flaws. Mass Effect 2, most agree, was a vast improvement over the first game. It improved the combat system considerably making ME2 feel more like an action game than ME1′s less refined systems. Whichever class you played, you were guaranteed a far more fun experience in ME2, especially if you employed the use of Biotics.

There wasn’t too much that needed to be improved in ME2, so it’s not surprising that Mass Effect 3 plays a lot like its predecessor. The few changes I did notice weren’t as major as the transition from ME1 to ME2, some don’t even bear mentioning. The melee system has been slightly improved, with some classes now able to use the Omni-tool as a blade for a take-down manoeuvre. Other than that the changes are things most people won’t even notice, like on-screen indicators showing when you can move between cover. Or slightly tighter aiming on the guns, it felt much easier to be accurate than before. Were I not being intentionally mindful of any changes I might not have noticed them at all.

Mass Effect 3 marks the final chapter in the trilogy. Shepard has spent the last two games trying to stop the Reapers, a race of sentient machines. He’s managed to slow them down but they’re still coming and now they have their sights set on Earth. After all humanity has proven to be quite the pest. Sadly the level I played didn’t give much indication of this wider story.

I was dropped right into the middle of a mission for the demo; tasked with protecting a female Krogan (something not seen in the other games), it’s not explained who she is or where we are. With Liara and Garrus in tow the sequence consisted of fighting my way through some bad guys to access a control panel. I repeated that a couple of times before being confronted by a human controlled mech. Much like in the previous games taking down this tougher enemy required using the right combinations of weapons and abilities. Machine guns for shield, the Warp biotic power for armour and that sort of thing. It all played very much like Mass Effect 2, it was a fairly standard combat situation. That’s not a bad thing though, the refined combat of Mass Effect 2 was incredibly fun and allowed for a ton of experimentation and variation.

The main improvement I noticed while playing was the level design, which is something that’s rarely noticed unless it’s especially bad. Level design in the previous games wasn’t bad per se but it was somewhat uninspired. You could always tell when you had entered a combat environment, the room would be laid out in a way which showed it was clearly designed to allow players to take cover. That in itself would be fine but when you’re running through lots of different environments and they are all laid out almost identically, save for an aesthetic change, it makes the world feel very artificial.

In the Mass Effect 3 demo I played however, the cover around the environment felt a lot more natural. Everything was a lot less symmetrical and made sense in the world, of course Shepard would use the side of a staircase as cover! The design felt far more cohesive and grounded in some kind of reality. It’s a seemingly small change but in practice is does a lot to keep you immersed in the game world. Whether this was just a fluke in the section I played or it’s a change that we’ll see through all the games environments remains to be seen.

At this point in the series I don’t think anyone is really expecting a huge change up in how Mass Effect plays. The second game gave us that and the extremely positive response almost guarantees we will get more of the same, which is what we appear to be getting. But when more of the same means more of one of the best games of 2010 you won’t see me complaining.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

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