Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood for PS4 and PS Vita

OlliOlli2 is a game which can be boiled down entirely to it’s core mechanics. There’s very little fat in OlliOlli2, giving an experience which is technically close to perfect if not necessarily particularly interesting. That said, this isn’t really my genre and likely wouldn’t have played this game without PS+. I had fun with it though!

OlliOlli2 is a skating game, but a far cry from the 3D skatepark arenas of the Tony Hawks of old. It’s an endless runner in a way, but that does the game a disservice. There are all sorts of complex and fiddly tricks to pull off as you thunder through the levels, although at first just making it to the end is an achievement, particularly later on. To maintain speed you must time landings and grinds perfectly, but when you get into that flow that games like this rely upon it all becomes unbelievably satisfying. There’s a lot of content too, with regular new challenges updated for free. This is the kind of game designed for people who love to chase high scores; I’m not that competitive, so this stuff didn’t really hook me.

This is a tough game, but the difficulty sometimes felt a bit cheap. There were a few times where I died because I was going too fast and I was overshooting, essentially punishing me for maintaining speed. Whether this was an intentional layer of difficulty or not, I hated this, as it essentially punishes you for doing well at the core mechanics. Now, whenever you criticise the difficulty of a game the internet tends to just tell you that you’re being a filthy casual, but I genuinely like difficulty. Just look at my utter adoration of Bloodborne! I hate cheapness though and OlliOlli2’s partially blighted the experience for me.

That said, it all looks and sounds rather lovely. The art style is simple, clean and effective with good animations for your little skater man. The music is good too, managing to be both distinctive and non-distracting. This is an undoubtedly smooth product.

OlliOlli2 isn’t quite my cup of tea, but I can certainly recognise its value. I had a good time with it, but I’m sure that there are people out there who will have an amazing time with it.  olliolli2-welcome-to-olliwood-listing-thumb-01-ps4-ps3-psv-us-27oct14

The Silver Dream by Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves

Not hugely surprisingly, The Silver Dream shares pretty much all of the same strengths and flaws of it’s predecessor InterWorld. The setting and general tone are still great, but as with the previous book it’s extremely rough around the edges and oddly rushed.

The Silver Dream picks up a while after the events of InterWorld, with Joey and his team of parallel universe versions of himself now much better established in the InterWorld community. After a botched mission Joey accidently returns with the mysterious Acacia Jones, a non-Walker who should not be able to be there. A series of events are set in place that reveal that the Altiverse is even more complex than first imagined and Acacia may hold the secrets.

The plot of The Silver Dream is quite enjoyable if you just sit back and enjoy the ride, not thinking about it too much. I just wish that this novel was given some space to breathe. I’m all for a fast pace, but interesting concepts are introduced, lightly touched upon and then moved on from almost immediately. The world building here is so fascinating but so shallow; it breaks my heart slightly that this breakneck story is all that we’re getting from it. That’s not to say that the story is bad, but it is rushed and disjointed.

I feel a bit sorry for Mallory Reaves, who co-wrote the novel with her father and received short shrift next to Gaiman who is given a credit for creating the story. The writing is snappy and doesn’t get bogged down, although it definitely lacks Gaiman’s mystical prose. As with a lot of this book, the prose is competent but doesn’t necessarily stand out.

Acacia is a good addition, riffing off of Joey well. There’s probably a little bit too much ‘manic pixie dream girl’ to her, but she was likable nonetheless. The best characters are the charming range of parallel Joeys, a diverse bunch that I’d have liked to get to know better. Charecteristically for this novel however, we don’t spend as much time with them as I would have liked.

The Silver Dream is a good sequel to a good book, but it’s also frustrating. This series has such potential to be great but there just isn’t enough. It’s so rare for quantity to be the issue rather than quality, but here we are! Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to the final book in the trilogy which is releasing very soon.The_Silver_Dream_by_Neil_Gaiman_Michael_Reaves_and_Mallory_Reaves_Interior_Number_Two

Bloodborne for PS4

I’d like to make a confession. I hated Dark Souls. It wasn’t that it was too hard, I just found the defensive combat boring, hated being invaded and killed by strangers and loathed the ‘hollow’ system that made each new try more challenging than the one before it. I thought maybe I hated the entire formula. I was wrong. Bloodborne isn’t just my favourite game so far for the PS4, it may be one of my favourite games of all time. I really, really loved it.

Bloodborne sees your mute protagonist arriving in the gothic city of Yarnham, a once beautiful place which has fallen into utter horror and despair. We’re told very little about what is going on, but we do know that it is the night of the ‘Hunt’ and hideous monstrosities have descended upon Yarnham. The protagonist must become a ‘Hunter’ and fight through the city. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface which gradually reveals itself, although it’s never really clear.

The worldbuilding in Bloodborne is hugely compelling. The lore is complex and arcane but you’re never hit over the head with anything. Bloodborne has very little exposition, but the clues are all there if you look for them. It’s a twisted and genuinely upsetting tale, one which pops into your head late at night and won’t let go. A lot of this is achieved through the setting itself, with Bloodborne’s Yarnham being my favourite example of storytelling through environmental design since BioShock’s Rapture. The atmosphere is oppressive and haunting in a way that you never really get used to.

As with Dark Souls, Bloodborne is an action-RPG, although there’s more than a dash of survival horror in there. The combat is quick and exciting, with the methodical combat of Dark Souls that I so despised swapped out in favour of a more rapid fighting style reliant on aggression and staggering foes. This much better suited my playstyle. This new focus on aggression is seen most clearly in the marvelously clever little mechanic which sees you regaining health if you strike back at your foes quickly enough after they’ve hit you. It’s so simple but so interesting, giving you a constant risk/reward decision to deal with as you fight; should you play it safe and back off, consuming one of your valuable healing items, or do you be bold and strike back, potentially leaving you at risk when you’re most vulnerable? These foes will hit you hard; Bloodborne is punishing, particularly early on, but there’s a moment when everything just clicks and you get into the rhythm of the game. Even the simplest enemies can kill you if you’re not paying attention and the bosses are brutal. Thankfully, you’re well armed, with a range of flashy and exciting weapons. All main weapons have two forms, a quicker and closer range form and a longer, slower harder hitting form. Switching between forms, as well as deciding when to use charge attacks, give battles a deceptively complex edge. Firearms in the left hand also play a role, although not as a ranged attack as you might have thought, but instead being used to parry enemy strikes which allow you to strike back with a gory ‘visceral’ attack. Bloodborne supports a range of playing styles, so you don’t have to be boxed in.

Underpinning all of the action packed goodness is an RPG leveling system which is simple enough to get to grips with but interesting enough to allow you to get creative. Your sole currency are ‘Blood Echoes’, gained from killing foes, which can be used to buy new weapons and equipment or to channel into levelling up. The main twist is that when you die, all of your blood echoes are lost, although they can be reclaimed as with Dark Souls. There’s a palpable feeling of tension when you’re carrying lots of Blood Echoes, with the decision as to whether to play it safe and carry my Blood Echoes back to safety to level up or to persevere (putting them at risk) being genuinely interesting throughout the entire game. There’s a weapon upgrade system to, as well as runes which give you personal benefits. These mechanics unfold gradually and never felt overwhelming, a major improvement over the unnecessarily obtuse Dark Souls. Don’t get me wrong, Bloodborne is still quite obtuse, but not unfairly so. This is a lengthy game too, with an epic story with plenty of other things to do, including the procedurally generated ‘Chalice Dungeons’, as well as Co-Op and PVP. These features didn’t interest me that much, I was more about the crafted content, but considering how much I loved the game without going too deep into them I imagine that people who are more into that sort of thing will be ecstatic.

Bloodborne has a few technical problems, but is generally impressive. The game looks gorgeous, with Yarnham oozing with character. The real visual triumph is in the animations however, both for the player and the enemies. The way the character moves is inherently satisfying and the weapon transitions are lovely in that impossible to describe way that presses a happy button in the back of your mind every time you see them. The enemy design is fantastic, with new spins on existing concepts. Although far from the most dangerous enemy you’ll face, one of the most memorable are the grounded crows which snarl and jump at you. There’s something so piteous about them that I’d feel bad about killing them if they didn’t scare me so much. The sound design is brilliant too, with a mournful soundtrack fueling the melancholy vibe. The sound of these creatures is just as striking as their look; the screams of the Cleric Beast still haunt me and the discordant sound of a woman singing always heralded the arrival of my most hated late game foe. One of the only real issues with Bloodborne is a semi-regular drop of frame rate; don’t get me wrong, this is no Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but it can be irritating. I didn’t find the load times as arduous as some, but they’re not helped by the fact that to get to a new area you must first return to the Hunter’s Dream hub, meaning that hopping between two areas of Yarnham involves two lengthy load screens. These issues aside, Bloodborne is a marvel.

I’m struggling to convey just how impressed I am by this game. I sometimes worry that my best game playing days are behind me, that adulthood means that I will never be able to get this affected by a game again. Although the aesthetic couldn’t be more different, Bloodborne makes me feel like old Nintendo games make me feel; this is a game made with clarity of purpose, with a series of goals that it sets out to complete and then completes them. If you’ve been waiting for a PS4 system seller, this is it.  fromsoftware

Complicity by Iain Banks

It’s always a bit sad going through the left over books of a favourite author after they’ve died. You just know that the remaining number is finite, there’s a counter in the corner. I’ve thankfully still got lots of the non-sci-fi Iain Banks stuff to go thankfully, with Complicity being my favourite of these so far.

Cameron Cooley is a journalist in Edinburgh who gets through each day with a lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol. He’s been receiving anonymous tips related to a series of unsolved murders from several years prior, against powerful and corrupt figures which seem to have been political in nature. As he investigates, it becomes clearer that he has some personal connection to these crimes. Meanwhile, we see a series of grisly and inventive new murders occur in the second person.

Complicity is a very clever book with an entertaining, slightly pulpy edge. The visceral descriptions of brutal murders and kinky sex are designed to titillate and there’s a self consciously unpleasant pornographic edge to the whole thing, which I believe is the point. The title is Complicity and is all about the shared responsibility that all people have for the world that we live in, with the protagonist and antagonist having very different views on how this should be acted upon. By making the murders so weirdly fascinating the reader becomes complicit in them; however, maybe I’m just a sociopath who’s reading too much into it. Regardless, Complicity is a clever book which deals with weighty themes whilst never forgetting to be entertaining.

There’s really no one who captures that combination of a sardonic, one eyebrow cocked irony with crushing cynicism quite like Iain Banks. This book was frequently hilarious but left me feeling queasy and upset; that genuine gamut of emotional reaction is vital to his writing. I’m not sure if there’s anyone who walks that line as confidently as Banks did.

Cameron is a deeply flawed protagonist who’s done some pretty dreadful stuff, but he’s hard not to root for. I can’t really talk about the best character without spoiling the plot, all I’ll say is that one character delivers a multipage monologue about their motivations and it’s genuinely electrifying reading. Banks does a good job of ensuring that even minor characters have at least one trait to make them memorable.

Complicity is a complicated and interesting book which is all about showing the worst of the world and bringing out that worst in the reader. It sounds negative and unpleasant and…well, it is, but it’s also an enjoyable read. This is a difficult trick to pull off and one that Iain Banks showed himself capable of time and time again.

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Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for Nintendo 3DS

Monster Hunter is one of those Japanese franchises, like Dark Souls and Persona, which has a rabid fan base made up of people I respect that I’ve never been able to quite ‘get’. I wasn’t particularly interested in this game, but the rapturous critical acclaim paired with a desire to get some more use of my New 3DS after I finished with Majora’s Mask led me to go for it and I’m glad I did.

Monster Hunter 4 isn’t going to win any awards for it’s storytelling, but it gets the job done. You are travelling on a ship when it is attacked by a monster and your heroic actions convince the captain to enlist you as a monster hunter. You begin to earn a name for yourself as a hunter and begin to be drawn into the mystery of the new a deadly creature known as the Gore Malaga. It’s not particularly interesting, but the writing is sharp, funny and endearing. This is a good case of a game going light on storytelling but including just enough to contextualize your actions well.

Monster Hunter 4 does a lot of things, but at it’s core it’s an action-RPG. The player makes their way through a series of environments hunting and killing monsters both big and small. Some are simple herbivores but the game is mostly made up of the epic giant monster fights which are a true test of the player’s skill. These monsters are unpredictable and fast, meaning that this isn’t a game just about leveling up and getting good equipment; you must be genuinely skillful too. There are a wide range of weapons to choose from, both melee and projectile including the obvious choices like swords, axes and bows alongside more strange weapons such as the Insect Glaive. All play very differently but all are effective and the game makes it easy to change weapon types as you make your way through the game. Experimentation is encouraged. The fights are gloriously tense and difficult and I found the whole thing just too clunky in Monster Hunter 3. Monster Hunter 4 adds one big, brilliant change to the combat. The environments in Monster Hunter 4 are much more vertical and you can jump from heights onto monsters backs, which can trigger a brief event where you must stab the creature whilst clinging on for dear life. If you’re not thrown off, the monster is stunned and you can get in a few devastating attacks. This never ceased to be thrilling and added the extra ingredient that I needed to enjoy Monster Hunter’s combat. I was lucky enough to play on a New 3DS, so I had the right analogue nubbin, so I will warn that I imagine that things might be a fair bit trickier without that simple camera control.

Of course, Monster Hunter 4 isn’t just an action game, it’s also an incredibly deep RPG. You don’t level up yourself, instead crafting new weapons and gear from the various monsters that you encounter, as well as from missions where you gather materials or fish. Creating and upgrading new stuff is deeply rewarding, with a constant positive feedback loop that makes the game hard to put down. There’s a lot of grinding involved, but the fights themselves are so fun that it’s never really an issue. This is a tricky, complex game and you have a lot of things to manage, such as health and stamina and you’re encouraged to prepare beforehand. For example, before every mission you can eat a meal cooked by your feline chef which give you certain buffs. Combining ingredients the right way can have a real impact on your success and this is just one example of the micromanagement expected of you. There are a lot of systems at play here, but none feel superfluous, it’s simply about giving the player as much control as possible.

You’re not going to run out of things to do any time soon either. As well as a lengthy single player campaign, there’s a huge amount of multiplayer stuff to do as well and regular free updates with new gear to create and challenges to face. This is a very dense game, which can sometimes be a bad thing, but Monster Hunter 4 runs like complicated clockwork; every part is necessary to build up to the complete experience.

The whole thing looks amazing too; as is often the case with 3DS games, screenshots really don’t do it justice. The whole thing runs very smoothly with top notch character animations and detail. Although the areas aren’t truly open, they still feel really varied and interesting with much more interesting environments than what I had seen in the previous game. The music is swelling and exciting too, making the battles feel epic. The real high point has to be the monsters, which move in believable and intimidating ways which makes it all the more exciting to bring them down.

Monster Hunter 4 is a great game and the entry which has finally sold me on the franchise. Ok, I may not have become as obsessed with it as some have, but I certainly enjoyed my time with it and suspect that there are many people who would like it even more than I did. 

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Monster Hunter 4 is a great game and the entry which has finally sold me on the franchise. Ok, I may not have become as obsessed with it as some have, but I certainly enjoyed my time with it and suspect that there are many people who would like it even more than I did.

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