Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the category “PSN Games”

The Walking Dead: 400 Days for Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC, Mac, iOS and Ouya

400 Days is a cheap DLC pack for The Walking Dead, which contains everything that made the original so great in microcosm.

400 Days follows five characters that will apparently appear in the second series of The Walking Dead. We only gain brief snapshots of their lives, but Telltale’s characterisation is still so good that that is really all we need to begin caring for and understanding them. We pick the order that we play these stories, and they intersect and cross over each other, before finally converging in an epilogue at the end.

There’s none of the awkward wandering around busy work that marred the main game, with a simple focus on tight, intense interactive storytelling which was the clear strength of The Walking Dead. The voice acting is wonderful as usual, and the cartoony visuals remain bizarrely effective at creating this sinister and unpleasant world.

For such a low price, 400 Days is an essential toe dip back into Telltale’s marvellous Walking Dead world, offering more of what made the main five episodes so great with an interesting new plot structure to boot. With very little, it makes me attached to five new characters that I cannot wait to meet again in Season 2.images

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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for XBLA, PSN and PC

Stories about young boys undergoing severe trauma and fear are becoming quite the XBLA Indie theme isn’t it? I guess there’s some primal part of us that engages with children more readily than we engage with adults, and that we can form an emotional connection with the speed that these, often briefer, indie games require. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons falls firmly into the ‘artsy’ game category, and your ability to enjoy it will come with many caveats; namely, whether you can forgive distinctly iffy gameplay for the sake of ‘art.’

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons follows a pair of erm…brothers, whose father has been taken with a mysterious illness. Their mother had drowned not long before, so the two set out to retrieve a strange medicine from a magical tree which can save their father’s life.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons takes place in a faintly Nordic inspired fantasy land, which starts out with a pleasantly twee, Fable-esque tone to it. This doesn’t last long though, and Brothers takes a massive turn for the dark a bit later on, with some genuinely chilling and horrifying environments, and an unsettling feeling that the idyllic charm of the beginning village is a front for a brutal and violent world. Don’t get me wrong, this world is frequently incredibly beautiful, and the game knows it, offering you regular benches that you can sit upon and get a great glimpse of the surprisingly huge vistas on offer, but behind that beauty is some truly horrific and violent imagery.

Although there is voice acting in this game, they don’t speak in any language, instead in a garbled gobbledegook. Dialogue really isn’t needed though, and it’s not difficult to tell what’s going on, with the voice actors doing an admirable job conveying their feelings purely through the tone of their voice without any reliance on actual words. The plot is well told overall, and we genuinely get a real understanding for the characters of the two brothers based on their reactions to the world. The older is more responsible, tough and chivalrous, and the younger is more playful, more sensitive and has a slight cruel streak common in young boys. The fact that these characters end up so well defined with the limited tools they can use is very impressive.

A few reviewers have called Brothers a co-op single player game, and there really is no other way to describe it. Each brother is controlled with an analogue stick, with their interactions with the world mapped to the trigger buttons. Although this is initially a highly off putting control scheme, by the end I got the hang of it, and it’s a great case of using the basic mechanics of the game to reinforce your ideas. You’ll mostly be running around looking at stuff, and there’s a lot of reward in slowing down and exploring your environments; all the achievements are tied to optional little secrets rather than the main story, and I encountered less than half even while I was trying to take it slow. There are plenty of simple puzzles, although none are too taxing, with many being typical ‘co-op adventure game’ puzzles mapped to a single player game, giving the familiar a new spin. There are some great set piece moments too, with the highlight of the game being a section where the brothers are tied together and must swing each other up platforms to climb a tower. It’s a simple mechanic, but requires a fair bit of concentration and dexterity.

That said, this game is horribly clunky, and without the ability to control the camera with the right stick, seeing where you’re going is a pain. The best ‘artsy’ indie games have really great gameplay alongside their interesting narratives, such as Braid, but Brothers is more like Limbo, serviceable gameplay which is upstaged by its atmosphere. Brothers is frequently enchanting, moving and funny, but it’s not always a lot of fun.

Although the environments are gorgeous, the character models are actually quite hideous, but I suspect that resources were tight and they absolutely made the right call putting the world first. Brothers has a lovely soundtrack, which varies from grand and uplifting to absolutely heart wrenching.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a great piece of interactive art, but not necessarily a great videogame. If you’re looking for excitement or refined gameplay you won’t get it here, but you may end up with one of the most stirring and moving gaming experiences you’ll play all year. brothers-tale-of-two

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon for XBLA, PSN and PC

I think when people were guessing where Ubisoft would go with Far Cry 3 DLC, no one would have guessed this. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon isn’t technically DLC; it’s a standalone download, but for all intents and purposes that’s what it is, and as a piece of DLC it’s remarkably ambitious. That ambition doesn’t quite transfer into a great game, but I’d like to see more DLC releases as audacious as Blood Dragon.

Blood Dragon has nothing to do with Jason Brody and his violent island adventures, and instead takes place in the desolate nuclear wasteland of 2007. The protagonist is Rex Powercolt, a ‘Cyber Commando’ who is sent to an island to investigate the rogue Cyber Soldier Colonel Sloan. Blood Dragon is a parody of 80s action sci-fi cinema, as well as gaming in general, with an overblown and ridiculous story wrapped in 80s cheese and nostalgia.

Sadly, the setting, so full of promise, doesn’t really work. The post apocalyptic nuclear wasteland is thoroughly unconvincing, largely achieved by placing a haze-y red fog over the existing tropical islands of Far Cry 3. I understand that a complete overhaul of style is a big ask, but it does lead to the open world of Blood Dragon being no fun to explore at all. Far Cry 3 motivated exploration by being beautiful, but it is possible to inspire exploration through desolation (just look at the Fallout series). Blood Dragon does not succeed here, with the red haze simply making everywhere feel this same, as well as providing an abominable draw distance. Still, I’m optimistic for the future of this setting; the lead voice actor Michael Biehn has implied that Blood Dragon may trigger its own franchise and get away from its Far Cry roots, which is exactly what it needs to do.

I wasn’t expecting a complex or nuanced story, but I was hoping for an entertaining one, and Blood Dragon is thoroughly lacking in that department. There’s that saying that any parody must be distinguishable from what it is parodying, and Blood Dragon really doesn’t succeed there. It doesn’t help that the majority of the story is told through, initially charming, 16 bit cutscenes. These gave a nostalgic kick at first, but they’re far too long and thoroughly outstay their welcome. The plot of Blood Dragon isn’t even funny; there are lots of laughs here, but they’re largely in moments unrelated to the plot, in amusing codex entries and a hilarious tutorial.

Happily though, Blood Dragon is a lot of fun to play. The mechanics of Far Cry 3 are subtly tweaked to create a fresh feeling experience; the main difference is that Rex Powercolt is much faster than Jason Brody, leading to a more ‘run and gun’ feel to Blood Dragon. Stealth is still an option, and generally nets greater EXP rewards for the linear levelling system, but running and gunning is just as viable an option. The most obvious gaming addition are the titular Blood Dragons themselves, which are essentially dinosaurs which fire lasers out of their heads. They function like a souped-up version of the predators in Far Cry 3, and can be lured into enemy encampments to wreak havoc. Although they’re not particularly well implemented, it’s hard to complain about any game which lets you summon laser dinosaurs to kill your foes whilst you watch on and cackle with glee.

Blood Dragon looks like it should be a decently lengthy release, but it really isn’t. The handful of main missions are fun, but it’s otherwise packed with short, underwhelming side missions. The side missions were weak in Far Cry 3 too, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. There just isn’t nearly enough bang for your buck here, although this package does show surprising value in other ways.

Although as I mentioned before I through that the physical setting was weak, almost every other element of the presentation is excellent. Michael Biehn’s rasp serves as a great double parody of both his own 80s film career as well as other videogame protagonists, and the voice acting is able enough for the supporting cast as well. The real highlight of this game for me had to be the soundtrack, filled with pumping synths and the odd hilarious power ballad. The music was provided by the videogame metal band Powerglove, and it’s their contribution which really sets this release apart.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is fun whilst it lasts, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. Still, you’ve got to respect a release as audacious, and even if Blood Dragon doesn’t work, I still respect the effort and care which went into this release. Blood Dragon feels like a prototype for something better, but as a product in itself I can’t really recommend it until it gets a price cut. far-cry-3-blood-dragon_1_pac_m_130412160904

The Cave for Wii U, XBLA, PSN, PC, Mac and Linux

I really, really wanted to like The Cave. Ron Gilbert is one of the best game designers of all time, Double Fine have released some of my favourite games and it was an excuse to turn on my Wii U. What could go wrong? Turns out; a lot. There’s the nugget of a great game here, let down by possibly one of the most utterly infuriating and obnoxious design flaws that I’ve ever played.

The Cave has, for all of its flaws, a pretty fascinating narrative. The Cave is a place where people can explore the darkest aspects of their personalities to find their ‘heart’s desire.’ The Cave may offer redemption, or simply allow these broken people to revel in their own depravity. The player picks three characters from a cast of seven, and these three go through the cave, each encountering obstacles and challenges unique to them and relating to an event in their past.

The Cave, who talks to you throughout the adventure (don’t question it), is a great setting. The different settings for each of the characters are quite atmospheric and distinct, from the medieval castle for the ‘Knight’ to the futuristic museum of the ‘Time Traveller’ .

The concept of a cave which throws up the darkest secrets of a person’s past is an incredible one, so it’s a just a huge shame that the actual game doesn’t live up to this potential. The stories about each character are fascinating; ‘The Twins’ have a truly dark tale to tell, with the ‘Knight’ falling into the category of grimly hilarious. The sinister, yet charming and witty, voice of The Cave helps to move the subtle story along well. There’s something of a Grimm’s fairytale in to The Cave, with a twisted and dark moral message paired with comedy.

The Cave is an adventure game (it is Ron Gilbert after all), but one in a style which I haven’t really seen before. At the opening of the game, the player chooses three characters from a pool of seven; the Knight, the Hillbilly, the Adventurer, the Twins, the Scientist, the Time-Traveller and the Monk. The game all takes place in 2D environments, and there’s a platforming element in the traversal of the cave. The player solves puzzles, used by collecting items, manipulating objects, often needing to use all three characters in your party at once. The puzzles are often very clever, although there is something of an overabundance of ‘adventure game logic’, puzzles which are oblique rather than clever.

The Cave tries some new and interesting things, but perhaps there’s a reason that this sort of game hasn’t been made before; it just doesn’t quite work. The platforming is cumbersome, irritating and pointless rather than engaging, and the lack of an inventory means a frankly ridiculous amount of ferrying items back and forth. Still, I could forgive these flaws, as I’ll forgive anything ambitious and shows a willingness to try something new, and The Cave certainly does. What I cannot forgive is the incredibly obnoxious requirement to play the game three times to see every character’s individual story. These are the main draw of the game, and there’s several hours of replayed content required to see them all. I gave up half way through my second playthrough; my first had been fun enough, but I wasn’t willing to waste that much time trudging through puzzles that I had just completed before. A major question is ‘why seven characters?’ Six would require two playthroughs, which wouldn’t be nearly so bad, but to experience the whole thing you have to play the game three times, the last with only one new character. Now, I’m sure this was intentional; Gilbert is a canny enough designer to not make these kind of mistakes by accident. That said, I cannot for the life of me fathom what that intention was, and it weakens the game a huge amount as a result.

Overall, this is a nice looking game. The characters all have a style which made me nostalgically reminiscent of classic LucasArts adventure games, as well as Double Fine’s more recent offerings. The voice acting is fun, with the clear highlight being the voice of The Cave itself, charming yet filled with menace. Other characters are voiced in an over the top hammy fashion which is the trademark of Double Fine games, and that’s just fine with me. This game is laugh out loud funny, as any good Double Fine game should be.

Still, it’s not enough, and The Cave stands as a bitterly disappointing experience, crippled by some baffling design flaws. There could have been a great game here, and there certainly are glimpses of something brilliant. This is a rare misstep for Gilbert and Double Fine; despite that, I still have full faith in both. I can’t wait to see where Gilbert goes next, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to Broken Age, Double Fine’s Kickstarted adventure game. the-cave_1_pac_m_121218150144

Outland for XBLA and PSN

Outland is a game which flew entirely under my radar. I generally have a fairly good idea of most major gaming releases, but I somehow missed this one entirely. I only gave it a try when it popped up on an XBLA sale, and I’m very glad that I did.

The protagonist of Outland is an unnamed and unspeaking man who, receiving dreams of a mythical and magical past, visits a shaman to get an explanation. The man is the heir to a great hero of the past, who had battled the two ‘Sisters of Chaos’, imprisoning them and dying in the process. The Sisters have escaped their imprisonment, so the shaman sends the hero on a journey to gain the powers needed to stop the Sisters.

Much of the plot is told through a gravelly voice narrator. There’s actually possibly a bit too much plot here, with a bad case of telling rather than showing. We’re informed after defeating each boss that they weren’t always bad, that they were once pillars of goodness, but this isn’t really relevant and doesn’t at all come across in the design or behaviour of the creatures themselves. There’s a potentially interesting world here, but it’s story isn’t told particularly well, and the game wouldn’t have suffered at all for paring the plot back even further.

Outland is, superficially at least, a platformer. The player is a silhouette who leaps and kills his way through the environment, gaining abilities which can be useful to access secrets in previous levels, giving this game something of a ‘Metroidvania’ feel to it. Outland’s twist comes from a mechanic stolen shamelessly from Ikaruga; the player can change between being red or blue, with lasers of that colour not effecting them. This starts out simple enough, but by the end you’ll be switching back and forth constantly, dodging between lasers and trying to take out enemies that can only be destroyed whilst the player is the opposite colour. Outland gets very difficult, and at times it strongly reminded me of the ‘bullet hell’ genre of shmup. The boss battles are fun and inventive too, usually involving taking out some giant horrible monster, and these can also get incredibly hard.

Probably one of this game’s biggest flaws lies in its weak opening. The player doesn’t actually gain the colour swapping ability until the second world, with the first world acting as a stylish, and not unentertaining, platformer. It doesn’t help that your given one of those moments where it shows you at full power before the game gets going, as in Metroid Prime, before yanking them away from you. This makes the wait until you get these abilities rather dull; it’s not good game design to withhold your main mechanic for a fifth of the game!

Outland takes place in five worlds, which do a good job of not being simply driven by the standard ‘grass world fire world ice world’ archetype. That said, there’s not that much of a distinction between these worlds. It’s visually very stylish, and this minimalist style is actually for the best; with the red and blue lasers flying everywhere as the player soars between them, dynamic backdrops would only serve as a distraction.

This is an incredibly stylish game, with the substance to back it up. The animation for our hero really contributes to the experience. There’s a sense of exhilaration as the player soars through the levels which simply wouldn’t have been possible with lesser animation, so a lot of credit is due there. The visual design of this game is subtle, not as obviously stylised as Limbo or as beautiful as Braid, but all the better for being understated.

Outland is a really cool, fun game. It takes plenty of elements from other games, and combines them to create something completely new. I’ve never played a ‘bullet-hell’ platformer before, and I’m grateful to Outland for giving me the opportunity to do so.

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Quantum Conundrum for XBLA, PSN and Steam

Quantum Conundrum is the new game from Kim Swift, the creative genius behind Portal. It bears many similarities to her opus; it’s a first person, physics based puzzle game. Swift wasn’t involved in Portal 2, leaving her to create this new game with new game play mechanics. I’m sure that Swift doesn’t appreciate that almost every review for this game compares it to Portal, but that’s just what happens when you create one of the most innovative and influential games ever made. So, does this game live up to is spiritual predecessor, or should Swift have stuck with Valve?

Whilst the gameplay of Portal was utterly sublime, it is arguably just as respected for its witty and sinister story and atmosphere, bolstered by exemplary voice acting and sharp humour. Sadly, these elements do not translate into Quantum Conundrum, although not for lack of trying. In Quantum Conundrum you are a young boy sent by his mother to visit his uncle, the mad scientist Professor Quadrangle. Upon arriving, some kind of weird science-y stuff happens and the good Professor becomes trapped in a small pocket dimension with no memory of how he got there, and it is up to his young nephew to rescue him. Our young hero uses this game’s equivalent of the Portal gun, the IDS, a glove which allows the player to switch between four different ‘dimensions’ which cause objects to have different properties. The attempts at comedy tend to fall fairly flat, whilst not being actively annoying. Quadrangles narration never matches that of GLADOS, tending more towards somewhat self consciously ‘quirky’ statements, and without the air of subtle menace which made Portal so special. The story certainly isn’t bad, just easy to ignore, which is what I suspect the vast majority of players shall be doing.

Luckily however, the game play of Quantum Conundrum is easily enough to make up for its forgettable narrative. The player is given access to each dimension gradually throughout the game, creating a nicely smooth learning curve. The player character is unaffected by these dimensional changes, so the player handles the same in every dimension. The first dimension the player is given access to is the ‘light dimension’, where everything is fluffy and, well…light! Safes which would normally be too heavy to move can now be picked up and thrown to pressure switches etc. The next dimension the player is given is, unsurprisingly, the ‘heavy dimension’, which does the exact opposite. The third is a dimension in which time slows down to a crawl, allowing precision jumping between objects normally moving too fast to traverse. The fourth and final dimension flips the gravity in the room, making all objects float to the ceiling. The rapid manipulation of these dimensions can lead to some truly complex and ingenious puzzle designs, although there are certain tricks which will be used over and over again. There has been a large amount of criticism of the amount of that much maligned gameplay mechanic, first person platforming, in this game, but I’m not sure if that is entirely fair. Although it is easy to miss the odd jump, the checkpoints are so regular and the load times so quick that it can be difficult to get too frustrated. The jumping around can lead to some pretty epic moments as the player zips around the room, reacting quickly to whatever object happens to block your path. Many players will not be satisfied with this game for one simple reason however; it is a rather easy, and although solving the puzzles does release that little rush of endorphins so vital to the genre, there are few which I can say left me truly stumped. Throughout the game I was waiting for a level of complexity which simply never appeared, it just..ends. Perhaps the clearly forecasted sequel will bring on the complex puzzles not quite featured here. This is another of the problems with this game; whilst Portal, despite its short length and position as part of The Orange Box, felt like a complete game in of itself, even if it didn’t have the length or budget of its sequel, the same cannot be said for Quantum Conundrum. Despite these issues however, the game is still damn fun to play.

The visuals are sadly lacklustre throughout. The mansion which the player explores is singularly uniform and drab, and not in a cool stylistic way like the Aperture Science complex of Portal. Between each puzzle chamber the player commutes through a series of insultingly similar rooms, with the very low number of visual assets repeating over and over again. It’s a rather surprising laziness, but it doesn’t really take away from the core gameplay. Star Trek’s Jon de Lancie’s performance as Professor Quadrangle can’t really be faulted; the uninteresting narration stems from unimaginative writing rather than poor voice acting. Ike, a cute little critter who pops up every so often, is really the only dynamic creation in the entire game, with his clumsy slapstick antics raising a smile in a way that none of the narration succeeds to. I suspect that with a proper, Valve sized, budget, Swift could have done great things with this setting, but the opportunity is sadly squandered.

Quantum Conundrum is a lot of fun, and worth a play. The fun of the basic gameplay overwhelms the disappointing setting and narrative. Swift has cemented her position as one of the most interesting developers in gaming, and I thoroughly look forward to her next product, whether a sequel to Quantum Conundrum or something entirely new. 

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