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Change of Pace

I was going to submit my E3 predictions, but ended up involved on a Podcast for it. I decided I’d upload it and submit it here. I join Input Lag, Chaos Overlord and JasonEatsCake as we discuss our predictions for the video game conference event: E3. My opinions on each conference will be up later on as well.

Pre-E3 News Round Up

As the last day before E3 and the weekend, today was pretty eventful for gaming news. Konami released their pre-E3 footage, and several other announcements were made. In particular, there were several reveals that were significant to me, and I would like to share them with all of you!

Besides the social networking news and their PES footage; Konami showed off some really neat footage of the Zone of the Enders HD Remake due to launch in the coming weeks. It was fairly cool. But what came next was  absolutely stellar. Konami supplied a brand new trailer to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and it was amazing.  The trailer featured all sorts of crazy, over-the-top action – it also unveiled new abilities. Raiden is able to climb objects such as buildings, and initiate stealth kills. It appears to me that stealth is actually fairly possible in this game, although as to the extent of the stealth, I am unsure. Oh, and do you remember that scene in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots when Raiden swings a Gekko (a slightly smaller Metal Gear) around? Yeah, that’s in the game too.

Frankly, I’m absolutely excited for this game. I was looking forward to it during the original reveal back in 2009, but that’s about all I could say for it. When they finally showed off the gameplay a year later, it looked like it used the same engine as MGS4. That engine worked well, but for this game it just appeared to be slightly clunky and slow. However, it was in that same trailer in 2010 that we saw Raiden slice everything and anything up with expert precision. Players could cut whatever they wanted, and those objects would even generate internal textures no matter where they player sliced it. That was really impressive back then, and it still is today.

Unfortunately, that game was never meant to be. Metal Gear Solid: Rising was quietly scrapped. That was, until Platinum Games (famous for Bayonetta) picked the title back up. What once appeared as slow and clunky now had action of intense speeds and incredible depth. I witnessed Raiden fighting one soldier, slicing one behind him the moment he tried to attack, and then parry a Gekko all in one smooth flowing sequence that was gameplay. The level of control over the combat blew me away. And then to top it off, he freaking blocked a Metal Gear Ray and threw it away. That was insane! I was sold, from that moment on.

This new trailer revealed to us some more depth in the combat. Players can toss enemies into the air and chain a combo up there, swap melee weapons and use guns, and even use parkour to sneak around enemies for silent kills. Environments can still be used to defeat enemies, including slicing up an enemy through a pillar. It looks incredible, and I want it now! Unfortunately, with this trailer comes the depressing news that the game has been delayed. Again. We can expect to see Metal Gear Rising in 2013.

Next up came Konami’s surprise. I’ll let you watch below.

Yeah, that’s right. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a thing. It’s just a CGI trailer, so there isn’t too much that I can comment on at the moment. I’m expecting some pretty cool gameplay from what I see in the trailer though. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Alucard is confirmed to be in this game. That’s pretty sweet too. Another 2013 release.

That was all from Konami, but that wasn’t all the news that got announced. For me, one of the biggest announcements outside of Konami’s Pre-E3 conference was the fact that Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is getting a PC release now! Yay! Fall of Cybertron is the sequel to the 2010 title, Transformers: War for Cybertron, and it looks great! We can expect to see that game come the fall.

For Gears of War fans, they’ll be excited to hear that Gears of War: Judgement is also a confirmed title that we’ll probably see at Microsoft’s E3 conference. I don’t really care much for the franchise at this point. It probably should have ended at the third. All the same, this probably means something to someone out there. It would amuse me to find that it’s a Kinect spinoff, however. That seems to be all the rage these days. The title is being developed by Bulletstorm’s People Can Fly development studio.

EA have announced that they will be releasing Dead Space 3 (cool, I guess), and Need for Speed: Most Wanted (god dammit!). Recently, it was announced that Criterion were developing a new game. I was hoping this would be the next Burnout. Nope! It’s yet another Need for Speed game. Give the franchise a rest for a couple of years and work on some Burnout, Criterion! We can expect more details on these titles and many others at their E3 conference on Tuesday. I’m mostly just looking forward to more details on SimCity.

Expect some leaks in the next coming days too, as that’s fairly common when it comes to E3.

Review: Not So Final Fantasy XIII-2

Box art for Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

Author: CrashScreen
Let’s get this out there now. Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty awful Final Fantasy game. I wrote a bloody essay on why it’s bad before. There’s just few good things to say about it. Sure, the graphics look nice and the soundtrack is great, but … that’s it. The game was extremely linear, had a pretty poor character progression mechanic, the battles were overly long and had interaction, there were no settlements and there was a lack of things to do.

Now, we’re not here to debate my opinion of Final Fantasy XIII. I’m not even here to justify it. Instead, we’ll leave that topic for another time and focus on it’s sequel. Released just a year after Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was an apology from Square-Enix. The purpose was to fix everything that was wrong with the previous game. Square-Enix acknowledged their mistake. But does Final Fantasy XIII-2 make everything okay again? Or should it really be the Final Fantasy?

Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3(Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: 3rd February 2012
Rating: 12+(PEGI)

An FMV sequence of Gran Pulse at the end of Final Fantasy XIII and at the start of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for my review.

To resolve the issue of linearity, Final Fantasy XIII-2 (FFXIII-2) is not set in a specific location or time. Instead, the characters use time travel to get from place to place, time to time. This is actually an important element of the plot. Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII ahoy!

After defeating the corrupt Fal’Cie (alien overlords who power the satellite named Cocoon in which the humans live), Lightning’s sister, and Snow’s fiancée, Serah returns from being transformed into crystal, as does Sazh’s son Dajh. This is when XIII ends; however, in XIII-2 the events transpire differently as Lightning vanishes. The humans settle on the planet named Pulse, in which Cocoon hovers above. Snow leaves on a journey to find Lightning for Serah, which leaves Serah alone for three years.

In 3AF, the village of New Bodhum in which Serah lives is attacked by monsters as a result of a time paradox. Noel, a boy from a future where he is the last human alive, comes to her rescue claiming that he was sent by Lightning, and so the two travel through time on adventure to find Lightning in the land of Valhalla – where time does not exist.

What is initially a light hearted journey, exploring the unique world of Final Fantasy XIII, the tone of FFXIII-2 becomes significantly darker towards the end of the game. So much so that this has been a relatively controversial element of the game. With consideration towards the theme of the game, and the sheer fact that the protagonists are playing with time, I actually judge the tone to be appropriate. I believe that the fun, adventurous experience of the earlier half blends very well with the intense, darker tone during the game’s conclusion. What we’re left with is a game with an intriguing plot that compels the player to persist with the main plot to uncover what happens to the cast; furthermore, the tone during the conclusion has left a massive impact on many players. Whilst many feel discontent with the conclusion, I can safely say that they will not be forgetting it any time soon. The ending is very shocking, and yet foreshadowing occurs through-out.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Historia Crux
The Historia Crux, which is used to get from location to location.

Tone is captured fairly well in this title. A particular moment of sheer brilliance is when the player get’s to see the world in which Noel hails from. The graphics style appears different as a nice yet melancholic track is integrated with the empty and desolate world. And then you have the city of Academia, which portrays a believable and fascinating futuristic city, both in it’s darkest hour and in it’s glory. Similarly, the level designs through-out the game are well thought out and implemented. The only real disappointment is that – while there are many due to the different time zones – ultimately there exists only nine different maps. The maps themselves are a mix of slightly linear and expansive layouts. The whole nature of the game, hopping freely between different times no matter what occurs, is far less restricting than the previous game. Players can explore. There are hidden items and monsters to find. There quests dotted around the multiple maps and times. Certainly, the player can’t really complain about linearity in this title. No, instead the player could possibly complain about the quests.

Quests can be repetitive, usually amounting to fetch quests or hunting a mini-boss. This isn’t too much of an issue thanks to being able to do them at any time, but it did at one point or another become tedious. If the player leaves the quests until after they beat the game, or focuses on all available quests before continuing the story, I can see this becoming quite a boring task.

As for the characters, Serah and Noel have far more personality than the previous cast. Both protagonists have multiple layers; although Noel makes for a more interesting character. In general, the cast is far more likeable than before. Unfortunately, it feels like some of the previous protagonists have digressed in their character development from the previous outing – as shallow as the developments were. Similarly, much as there are holes in some of the previous characters, there also exists a number of plot holes in the game. I suspect this is a result of early planning of DLC. Perhaps as a result of the short one year development cycle? Or maybe they’re holding out for explanations in succeeding titles? Regardless of the case, these plot holes would have been relatively major if it weren’t for plot holes being a natural by-product of a time travel storyline. Sure enough, Square-Enix could have taken more care as to not fall into this trap.

Speaking of character development, the character progression mechanic is a far better attempt than FFXIII. The player purchases character upgrades in a network of nodes which appears similar to their weapon type. Each node of this “constellation” can be attributed to one of the six classes in the game. Every time a node is activated for a class, that class levels up and the character may obtain a new ability should they be at a specific level. They will also increase their strength, magic and/or health. Should the node be a large one, a bonus is also applied based on the class (for example, Commando gives a Strength bonus). This actually adds a nice level of control and customisation to character progression, as well as allowing the player to exert a bit of strategy into what they focus their points on. Players may also capture and raise monsters for battle in a similar fashion.

Much like any of the other numbered Final Fantasy titles, FFXIII-2 is menu driven in it’s combat. Players chain together different abilities based upon their currently selected class in an effort to “stagger” the enemy. When an enemy is staggered, they are left pretty defenceless and take a ton of extra damage. Whilst there are many different tactics that could be employed with the Paradigm Shift mechanic – in which players can fluently swap between each class which has a specific function in battle (Medic to heal, Synergist to enhance the player character attributes) – the combat focuses heavily on staggering enemies. This is an inherited issue from FFXIII. Fortunately, Square-Enix let up a bit on the focus. The result of this is that enemies no longer have ridiculous levels of health. Instead, enemies are far more balanced and are genuinely sometimes a challenge, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of thoughtless battles I participated in FFXIII.

A battle in Final Fantasy XIII-2 as the party fight a Ghast and try to stagger them.
The party – a monster included – fight a mini-boss as they build up his
stagger gauge.

Previously, I had an issue with the battle system being so overly simplified that there was little need to use anything more than auto-battle. In fact, in some battles when haste was used, it was actually often required. Of course, you could get away without using it, but that only costs you time – and time is important in this particular battle system. FFXIII-2 seems to somewhat resolve this by refining the classes more than the previous title. In all honesty, it feels like I’m selecting my ability when I shift classes, rather than when I’m actually in the class, but that works far better in this game. I’ve noticed some classes actually removed some abilities. In particular, I’ve noticed haste is no longer an ability the two protagonists can use.

I found myself using Paradigm Shift far more frequently than I did in Final Fantasy XIII, so it’s fairly evident there’s more challenge. It also means that the battles were that little bit more interactive. To ensure user interactivity, though, Square-Enix through in Quick-Time Event segments during battle. They’re unnecessary, but they can be fun to watch. Nevertheless, as a player I couldn’t help but feel that they were shallow game elements in a check list that were thrown into the game just to say, “yes, the game is more interactive now” – much like the quests themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any more thought than that reason for the QTEs, as they have little impact on the gameplay.

Much like FFXIII, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The scenery is amazing, and the FMV sequences are breathtaking. Likewise, the soundtrack complements the visuals incredibly well, although I have a few nitpicks with specific song choices here and there. Furthermore, voice acting is handled and directed very well with the title.

Personally, I found the game addictive and incredibly fun. It’s simplicity makes for an enjoyable adventure, and the plot is intriguing. Many would consider Final Fantasy XIII-2 to be a relatively “casual” game. In fact, I reckon this is one of the most prominent complaints that Final Fantasy XIII had. However, while I agree that the game isn’t very “hardcore”, I stand firm that this is a good thing. It’s nice to have a breathe of fresh air, and it’s also nice to relax.

Video games are entertainment. They’re meant to be fun first and fore-most, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 delivered. Unfortunately, the plot holes ruin what could have been an excellent story. The battles, while fun and engaging in their simplicity, strip away so much user choice that you’re simply left with “will I attack, will I build up stagger, or will I heal?” Quests are repetitive and, if not tackled correctly by the player, can be quite boring. There are times in the game where I even recall that the game had a one year development cycle, in which the impact becomes apparent.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is far from a perfect game. But, for what it’s worth, I found myself surprisingly hooked to the game. It has potential to be more, but amounts to nothing more than a game designed by a check list to resolve the previous game’s problems. Would I look forward to Final Fantasy XIII-3? I certainly would, if they announce it. This title restored my faith in Square-Enix’ Final Fantasy franchise, which FFXIII recently destroyed. Furthermore, nowadays, the game can be found at a heavily discounted price. If you’ve been a fan of any of the older games, or you’re looking for something casual to grind through, I do suggest that you give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a chance. You might, possibly, be surprised.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 scores a 7/10. It was completed on the highest difficulty (normal) and the author achieved 100% completion in the game. The title was played in its vanilla version, therefore it did not contain any of the downloadable content available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.

This review is entirely subjective and should not be considered fact. This review is the author’s opinion and nothing more. Feel free to discuss the review in the comments below, but try to keep it civil. You are also entitled to an opinion that differs from the author, and don’t forget it!

Let’s Take a Breather: Diablo III Infographic

So much writing… damn. Who’d have thought a blog specifically created to publicise my video game reviews would require so much writing, right?

Well anyway. I’m taking a breather. It’s good to get some content that’s far easier on the eyes. As a result, I’m going to show you guys an infographic on Diablo III that my friend produced. Enjoy!

Diablo 3 facts

(All credit goes to Bloodsugar, be sure to check out more of his infographics!)

Late to the Party – Modern Warfare 3

MW3 Teaser

I recently subscribed to LOVEFiLM – an online service where you may rent games and movies. I’m still in the free trial stage and I’ve decided to make the most of it before I decide whether I keep it. For me, this is the best chance to try games that I wouldn’t necessarily buy, or haven’t had a chance to. NeverDead and LA Noire were two examples of this, respectively. This week, I received Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Asura’s Wrath in the mail.

The first disc that I slot into my PlayStation 3 happened to be Modern Warfare 3. Talk about late to the party; this is the first time I’ve played this particular Call of Duty. The thing that interests me about this title is just how bipolar the internet is in it’s attitude towards the game. Modern Warfare 3 is apparently both the greatest game ever made, and the worst game ever made. There rarely ever appears to be any form of middle ground – at least, that’s the case on the internet.

I’ve only just finished the game but I’ve yet to play it’s main function: multiplayer. Because of the title’s focus on its multiplayer component over its single player campaign, I still consider this a first impression article rather than a review. I ask of you to keep in mind that any opinions following may not consist with the final review and will not include multiplayer.

As it’s own game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is honestly a good game. That’s right. I said it. The controls are smooth and well refined, and the action is well paced. It’s what you would expect from a best seller. So why does the game get so much hate? The issue is, it hasn’t changed at all in five years. At best, it’s become more over the top (which makes it more fun in my opinion), but it still very difficult telling it apart from the previous Call of Duty titles. That’s the main issue, and that’s why this is going to be a short post. If you’ve played the previous games then you know exactly what to expect from Modern Warfare 3. It’s the exact same game, if only with some extra guns. This is the controversial issue.

As a game, Modern Warfare 3 is fun and exciting. It’s simple and easy to play, and ultimately delivers a pleasing and rewarding six hours of gameplay experience in it’s campaign. As a sequel, the game does little beyond extending the story to warrant it’s own existence. Frankly, it fails as a sequel. Furthermore, I’ll add that the game just seems rather forgettable. There’s a high chance that I will remember little of my play-through of the game and, in fact, I am already failing to recall certain moments.

The game doesn’t deserve the hate though, it’s certainly a good piece of entertainment. Unfortunately, it seems to be nothing more than a Bay movie in video game form. It’s a fun yet shallow experience. And that’s okay too. If only Activision would stop milking it.

In conclusion, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a good first-person shooter but ultimately fails as a sequel. Your money is better spent elsewhere if you already own another title from the franchise. Of course, I doubt that will stop you. If you’ve never played the franchise then I suggest you at least give it a rent. It’s still quite fun.

NeverFun: NeverDead Review

Neverdead neverfun

The first time that I learned of NeverDead, it was when I was watching the Pre-E3 Konami Conference last year. It came out of nowhere and looked pretty damn fun. We had an immortal who couldn’t die, clearly designed to have a badass attitude, and an over-the-top action game with Megadeth playing the theme music. Yeah, that was pretty sweet.

Jump to the launch of the title, and bad reviews flood the internet. I didn’t really read them, but the reception to the game was clear. Still, I stubbornly decided to give it a chance. This was meant to be a first impressions post, to be followed by a review later on during the week. However, I ended up finishing the game before I could write my impressions. Welcome to my review of NeverDead.
Publisher: Konami 
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Release Date: 3rd February 2012
Platform: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Rating: PEGI: 18, BBFC: 15
Bryce Boltzmann is an immortal, cursed by the demon king Astaroth after the demon murdered his wife. Five hundred years after the incident, Bryce now works for an organisation hunting demons with partner Arcadia. The game’s plot is fairly simple and predictable. There was not a single unforeseeable twist. This wasn’t because of any form of overshadowing or anything of the sort. No, to the contrary, the game completely lacked  any actual development. Plot twists were literally pulled out of the developer’s ass, and Bryce’s character warmed up out of nowhere. The character begins cynical and lacked compassion, and yet two cutscenes later he was a warm and compassionate character, who cared even for strangers. 
The underlying plot and characters could indeed be interesting, and in fact I found myself warming up to Bryce as a character, but they were executed poorly. It feels like the story was implemented using concepts, rather than being fleshed out in later design iterations, and that is a shame. As a whole, the story is generally warm hearted and tries to be fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Falling off a building, being smashed into pieces and your head rolling over to the woman to ask if she’s okay? That’s great. Bryce becomes a character whom I feel compelled to like, but unfortunately I can’t call him a good character. The other characters? I needn’t comment, because they’re more or less background noise. 
I’m not going to lie though. Despite Bryce being of particular focus as a character, the story as a whole isn’t really the point in this title. NeverDead’s real significance lies in the immortality as a game mechanic. Unfortunately, it’s this feature which also most prominently lets the game down. 
NeverDead gameplay

As you fight waves upon seemingly endless waves, Bryce can gradually lose limbs during the onslaughts. Players can lose arms and legs, leaving the protagonist hopping around swinging his sword wildly with one arm. This feature has some very high moments, such as when fighting the third boss. During this battle, the player must throw his arm into the mouth of a giant bee(?) demon, for it to be devoured. Even though the arm has been dismembered, the player still has control over it. Here, the player shoots while his arm is inside the monster’s stomach, allowing him to reveal the weak point to shoot at with his remaining, attached, arm. I like this use of the mechanic, even if it isn’t exactly obvious and the game needs to inform the player. Unfortunately, this example is the only true moment where the mechanic shines. 

It’s safe to assume that the inability to die leads to the game becoming significantly less challenging. This is completely true to an extent. While the game rarely challenged my skill, it still challenged my patience. Fairly frequently, a monster would manage to strike Bryce leading to his head to come flying off. The player needs to roll around, avoiding the demons that vacuum your head into their stomach (leading to a game over) and try to attach himself to the body. It only ever takes one hit before you’re left searching for your body. This feature just interferes with gameplay and completely breaks up the flow of the action. It’s frustrating and it’s just tedious. Actually, tedious is an apt description for the entire game, let alone this mechanic.
NeverDead is just incredibly monotonous. Between the lack lustre music (with the exception of Megadeth’s NeverDead track which plays a whole one time during the game) and the incredibly underwhelming variety of enemies, the game just gets repetitive far too quickly. The chapters appear to drag on, and even the battles actually last longer than they should. Whenever the player appears to defeat every enemy in the area, more waves continue to spawn – and the player can’t progress without clearing that area.
Easily the best feature of the game, NeverDead does feature the best destructible environment I have ever seen in a game. Almost everything can be destroyed, and there’s a chain reaction if played right. It’s so seamlessly integrated that I never actually noticed it – despite using it to my advantage on many occasions. 
So, the game doesn’t exactly ooze style in its gameplay, being as dull as it is. Does it’s graphic style save it? No, it doesn’t, but it certainly helps it be less boring at times. The game is graphically distinctive, albeit on a subtle level. But that’s actually pretty good. 
NeverDead has the occasional redeeming quality, but it just feels like a game that went straight to the implementation stage from the very early concepts. Nothing seems fleshed out, despite some very well polished mechanics such as the destructible environments. 
For what it’s worth, NeverDead is a title that seems to have heart, but fails to deliver anything substantial or truly fun. The development team got excited by the concept and went straight into making it. What could easily have been a neat little title has, consequently, become a rather forgettable title. Unlike Bryce, the title isn’t immortal by a long shot and will probably not survive through time. I can’t say I disliked the game, despite finding it ridiculously tedious as I trudged through it; I actually liked the game. I just probably won’t remember it this time next year.
(This is not fact by a long shot. The entire review is strictly the opinion of myself. And for those who really require a score, NeverDead scores 4/10. Whilst the game could have features that make it unique, these are poorly executed. Overall, the game can’t even be considered mediocre.)

Updates and Stuff

Just thought I’d let you all know that my exams are finished. That’s really all there is to that update, but I may as well take this as a time to look into what you can expect from me in the coming weeks.

I’ve recently gotten a hold of both LA Noire and NeverDead. Expect some first impressions of those. Furthermore, I completed Final Fantasy XIII-2 (nearly 100% as well), so I’ll be getting started on my review of it. That should be due in a weeks time, tops.

All these big titles though, it’s a bit unfair on indie titles, right? I’ll be starting a video series, sometime preferably soon, where I will be doing first impressions on them too. Since they’re all mostly on PC, it makes filming them an option and a great way to explore and express their unique flavours – since everyone knows a rule to be indie is to do something unique.

I’ve also got plans to create a Let’s Play series, but nothing like the shoddy LP’s you usually get on YouTube. In fact, speaking of Let’s Plays, a biweekly segment on the blog will be about looking at other Let’s Plays found on the internet and sharing them. It’s a good way to share a game, or even back up my own reviews. Look out for those too.

So as you can tell, there’s going to be a lot of content once I get started. I’m just taking a minor break from working so much lately (and by a minor break I mean a couple of days) and then I’ll get started on all of that. See you next time!