Tuesday, 16 August 2011
A revolutionary step forward in game design; a life-affirming instant classic.
Every now and then a game comes along that changes the way you view video games and indeed art in general. Street Cleaning Simulator is just such a game. From the moment the simple yet beautiful menu screen is displayed to the intense thrill of sweeping the busiest street in the city the game is simply captivating. The graphics have a unique artful design that rivals artists such as Monet and DaVinci, meanwhile the plot is equal parts heartbreaking and life affirming. The gameplay is in a word, perfection. Never before has a game been so challenging yet perfectly balanced, always offering new and exciting gameplay mechanics such as parrallel parking and refilling the petrol tank. There were times I had to stop playing just to clean the sweat off my body and often to shed tears at the emotionally draining story. Street Cleaning Simulator single handedly restored my faith in the video games industry and humanity in general.
After playing this glorious game I was inspired to give up my dead end job as a doctor and pursue my dreams as a street cleaner. Street Cleaning Simulator changed my life, and it will change yours too.
Monday, 11 July 2011
"Dying Is Your Latest Fashion" is the debut album from Las Vegas screamo quintet (now a quartet due to various member departures). The album is a somewhat schizophrenic affair with some songs being genuinly great rock songs, whilst others feel generic, uninspired and just generally uninteresting. Fortunatley it seems for the most part the good outweighs the bad.
The album kicks off well with energetic opener "Webs We Weave". This song has a good fast paced tempo and feels very punk/post-hardcore inspired. The interplay between sung and screamed vocals works very well, vocalist Ronnie Radke has a very emotional voice which means that the screams seem much more impactful when they are implemented. Unlike some bands of this genre Escape the Fate do not crowbar in screaming where it is not nessacarry, which means they feel more dynamic when they are used. This song has some impressive guitar work from the duo of Espinosa and Money.
Second track "When I Go Out, I Want To Go Out In a Chariot of Fire" is where some problems that plague the entire album begin to become apparant. As a vocalist Radke is up to scratch, he has a great range and can alternate between intense screaming and emotional singing with ease, as a lyricist however, he is not. There were times when I found myself cringing at the quite honestly atrocious lyrics. Take this extract from the dull "Reverse This Curse":
"So, this goes, out to, the ones that fall in love.
An to, the girl, that filled, my, dark"
Wait..."filled my dark" what does that even mean? It almost sounds like Engrish, and it isn't helped that this particular lyrics is very prominant and not hidden under a lot of instrumentation. The album is filled with these "wtf?" moments. Often times using bad, overplayed metaphors that make the song feel painfully generic. Then again there are the odd moments when the lyrics sounds genuinly poetic for example on an intense screaming section of "My Apocalypse":
"All the vibrant colors I see
And the shades that fill my dreams"
Unfortunatley moments like this are few and far between. To me Escape The Fate shine when they attempt heavier songs rather than the emo fare of "Cellar Door" or "Friends & Alibis". "The Guillotine" is a blinding assault based on the Halo video games that sounds closer to Metalcore bands like Alexisonfire. The song is heavy and fast with the odd inclusion of a hair-metal style guitar solo before crashing into a death metal, low-growling outro that displays some impressive drumming from Slash doppelganger Robert Ortiz. ETF really shine when they take these opposing genres and mash them together and somewhow manage to pull it off.
"No Sympathy For the Dead" is another great post-hardcore anthem that is more consistant than "The Guillotine" and easily makes up for the whiny faux-Motley Crue "Situations". The soaring pop-punk chorus compliments the hardcore breakdowns and more complex guitar fills.
"Not Good Enough For the Truth in Cliche" is the big single for this album. It is a pop-punk style song but this time it is well done, with an infectious melody and the choice use of some screams for climax of the song.
Undoubtedly the stand-out track of this album is slow burner "My Apocalyspe". The song starts out slowly with Radke singing softly over clean guitar before kicking in to a saoring chorus and some beefy breakdowns. Near the end of the song ETF hit their high point. The song builds to an epic crescendo with some immacilate guitar work favouring tapping and Radke bleting out some of the most intense screaming I have ever heard, before topping off the song with one final fist-pumping chorus.
The album ends with a suprisingly heartfelt acoustic track "The Day I Left The Womb" a tribute to Radke's family and the heartbreak of his mother leaving him at a young age. This is easily the best track lyrically as Radke isn't using tortured metaphors or failed poetic lines but is simply singing from the heart, as cheesy as that sounds.
"Please don't worry I am doing fine
Your much too busy to even find the time
so use your chemicals and take this to your grave
the boys you left are men you didn't raise"
Overrall Dying is Your latest fashion is a very mixed bag. If your willing to suffer through the played out screamo songs there are some absolute gems that will shock and impress you.
Download: My Apocalypse, The Guillotine, The Day I Left The Womb
Avoid: Reverse This Curse, When I Go Out I Want To Go Out In a Chariot of Fire
For fans of: Atreyu, A Day To Remember, From First To Last
Monday, 28 February 2011
Sean Parker's character is undoubtably the catalyst for the rift that occurs between Mark and Eduardo. Timberlake pulls of the character excellently as the manipulating businessman who uses his rockstar swagger to convince the socially inept Zuckerberg that in order to suceed he must be ruthless and that if his best friend gets left behind, "we get left behind." Network is a smart film, so smart in the fact that the audience is often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information beng thrown at them, however this sense of confusion only serves to help the audience understand the kind of manic energy involved as a bunch of twenty somethings create one of the highest grossing online industries ever concieved. The Social Network succeeds in portraying both the drama of facebook's creation and the reason behind why 500 million of us have signed up in the first place. While it's not important to the plot anyone with a facebook page will undoubtably be interested to know how pieces of it first fitted together.
The minute details of the plot are questionable, the specifics of Zuckerberg's relationship with his ex girlfriend have been debated but whether or not the plot is 100% accurate is besides the point when viewing a film like this. Fincher takes a story of corporate disputes and courtroom battles and injects it with such life and energy that it is easily as entertaining as any of the year's so called blockbusters. At the end of the second act things begin to slow down however the humour and style of the piece keeps holding the viewers attention until things pick up towards the conclusion. However it's in the quiet moments where Fincher really flexes his directorial muscles. More powerful than any of the intense dialogue sequences is in the final moments of the film as Mark sits alone at his computer hopelessly refreshing his facebook page awaiting his ex girlfriend to accept his friend request, desperatley hoping for comfirmation that he's not as alone as he knows he is. The Social Network is a classic tale of betreyal, revenge and alienation for the Silicon Valley age and is not to be missed.
Sunday, 27 February 2011
Yes indeed that time of year has come again when we prepare to drink ourselves into a barely concious stupour to celebrate another uneventful year and ring in the next unevitably boring year. Looking back on the year in video games we have had some excellent releases however there has disapointingly not been an outpouring of new and exciting franchises. Some honourable mentions that didn't quite make the list would have to be Vanquish, a delightfully crazy japanese 3rd Person Shooter, Limbo a frightfully macabre sidescrolling platformer, Call of Duty Black Ops, which in my opinion had a lackluster single player campaign but an excellent multiplayer mode with a plethora of unockable content and Heavy Rain a great advancement in the "interactive movie" genre that had amazing graphics and a great story, slightly let down by undesirable voice casting.
But without further ado here is my official Top 5 Video Games of 2010 List...
5. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
In at number 5 is an awesome JRPG that is sure to be overlooked by most "best of" lists. I have always had a fondness for the Kingdom Hearts franchise for combining my 2 favourite childhood franchises, classic Disney films and Final Fantasy. This game was a joy to play, taking the best from the first 2 Kingdom Hearts games, combining the flashy combat of KH2 with the challenge of KH1. The plot is very convoluted like all of the KH games but if you are already a fan like I am you will lap it up especially with the excellent voice acting of Leonard Nimoy as the truly frightening villain Xehanort and Mark Hamill as the jedi master-like Eraqus (read it backwards). The combat in this game is really fun especially with the new "deck" and "command" systems which allows you to collect and combine different moves, creating an aresenal of awesome swordplay to unleash on the enemies "the unversed". The only downside to this game is that there is not much exploration due to the restrictions of the PSP system, there is also a lack of Final Fantasy cameos (Zack from FFVII is the only one to show up). Overall this is a great addition to the series and is worth checking out by any fan of Final Fantasy or Disney.
4. Halo Reach
As someone who has never been a fan of the Halo series Reach had it's work cut out for it to impress me, but impress me it did. I played Halo 3 and enjoyed it but it could never quite pull me in the way Reach did. It may be the fact that they got rid of all the convoluted plot and stuck to a basic war story or it may just be the way that the gameplay was refined to near perfection but Halo Reach is for sure the definitive Halo experience. Each gun is perfectly balanced for it's specific role, each enemy can be taken down with the correct strategy, each level is expertly designed. For some the multiplayer is the main motivation for purchasing the game and with good reason. Every game mode makes use of the game's mechanic's to the fullest extent. Some of the most fun I've ever had with an online game is flying through the air with a jetpack, hurling a sticky grenade into a group of 20 players all desperatley trying to score points in the base in King of the Hill and watching the carnage ensue. If there is one online shooter to buy this year it is unquestionably Halo Reach.
3. Final Fantasy XIII
A controversal choice indeed. Many people dismissed this game for it's linearity and lack of exploration, however once you get used to the linearity Final Fantasy XIII is a very enjoyable game.This game has a very strong story that can be a little confusing at first, but once you get introduced to all the different elements of the mythology I found the plot very interesting especially the how the different character's roles and opinions of each other effect their relationships. This is not the typical Final Fantasy team dynamic, there is a lot of tension between characters and prejudice that the characters must eventually overcome to achieve their goals. The graphics in this game are some of the best of this generation, especially when viewed in 1080p on a PS3. The world is beautifully crafted and the character models and animation is simply superb. The full CGI scenes look even more incredible and I imagine this is what it would look like if Pixar decided to make a sci-fi/fantasy movie. The voice work is also very good, my only complaint would be the character of Hope who is very annoying and whiny and I honestly wanted to smack him upside the head whenever I had to use him in my party. The combat system is a slightly different affair than we are used to seeing in Final Fantasy games. It does not have to classic turn based style of the older games nor does it opt for a real time system like Final Fantasy XII but instead chooses a middle ground that is a mixture of both. In your party of 3 you queue up the actions you intend to use be they physical attacks, offensive magic, defensive magic, healing spells etc. then your characters proceed to use these moves when the ATB bar has filled up. The timing of when and which attacks hit together is very imortant as building up chains of hits can rack up extra damage or induce the "stagger" state which makes your enemy extremley vulnerable for a period of time. It all seems quite complicated but once you get a handle on it it can be very rewarding. The leveling system is also very rewarding as you can choose what areas of abilities you want each character's strengths to be. Overall FF13 is a worthwhile experience if not just for the excellent story and an awesome way to experience it.
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
What is left to be said about Super Mario Galaxy 2? At it's release it was showered with perfect 10 reviews, and with good reason, Galaxy 2 is simply platforming perfection. Each level is crafted with love and care, providing equal levels of childlike wonder and unforgiving challenge. The format is classic Mario fare, the Princess has been kidnapped once again by Bowser and the responsibilty once again falls on the pudgy plumber to blitz through a series of unique and insipring planets collecting as manny power stars as possible to generate enough power to launch an interstellar assault on Bowser's fleet of battleships (...or something like that). The story is irrelevant all that matters is that the same platforming magic we have come to expect from Nintendo is present and this time with even more content packed in. Unlike Mario Galaxy 1 which often felt too easy to breeze through, Galaxy 2 is shockingly difficult, don't get me wrong it is not unfairly cruel as more often than not you will lose your lives cursing your own lack of skills than the game's almost faultless mechanics. To complete the main story you will be challenged a lot and each of the level's challenges will take a decent amount of time to complete, but if you want to strive for 100% completion know that you have a very tough slog ahead of you, but don't worry you'll love every second of it. Various new powers have been brought in for Mario to make use of, the most significant of which is your dinosaur pal Yoshi, who when jumped on his back will allow you to zip around much faster than Mario. My only complaint I have with SMG2 is the pointless comet coins you are forced to collect if you wish to unlock every star. Rather than being achieved by completing specific goals like stars, comet coins are randomly strewn across the levels often in extremley difficult places. Finding these coins is a chore and was a mistake to be put in the game. Aside from this tiny complaint SMG2 is simply one of the closest to perfect games we have seen in recent times, even the constriction of being on this generation's most underpowered systems does not hold Galaxy 2 back from being one of the best looking games this year. Each colour drenched environment is georgous to look at rivalling the graphics of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The only reason this is not my number 1 choice is that it is very similar to the first game. For a fan of platforming, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is pure bliss and proof that Nintendo are still setting the standard for game design across the genres.
And now for my number 1 choice, drum roll please....
1. Red Dead Redemption
Well no surprises here, right? No other game this year deserves the title of Best Game as much as Red Dead Redemption. Right from the get go you know your in for something special. As we see John Marston riding the train into Blackwater listening to the banter of aristocrats and preists you gauge the atmosphere instantly. John is part of a dying breed. The old West is fading away. Marston is an outlaw in a country that desparetley wants rid of him and as such must hunt down the people he once called friends, outlaws, theives and muderers to secure the safety of his wife and son. The plot is executed suberbly with an outragous cast of characters all with excellent voice actors, each one likeable and unlikable in his or her own ways and has John doing everything from herding cattle to leading the Mexican revolution against the dictatorship of the government, which all builds to one of the most effecting conclusions I have ever seen in a video game.
The world of Red Dead is vast and beautiful, spanning the Austin area of Texas and a part of Mexico. Many towns and settlements are dotted around the enormous map each one with it's won distinct personality and inhabitants. The main story of the game is devided up into 2 main activities; riding horses and shooting people. The controls handle very well one you get used to the weight of things and it soon becomes second nature to whistle for your horse and gallop at full speed to your next destination. The shooting is very similar to Grand Theft Auto IV. Pressing LT to aim your gun will snap to the nearest enemy allowing you to nudge the analogue stick to target specific parts of the body such as the head. This makes shooting very simple and enjoyable, especially when picking enemies off as your riding your horse. You can also use a bullet-time like ability known as Dead Eye to target multiple enemies in slow motion. The main campaign is varied and a decent length, taking at least 15 hours, perhaps longer depending on how many side activities you indulge in. There are a plethora of other activities to engage in whilst not in story missions such as hunting, duelling, bounty hunting, cattle rustling, clearing gang hideouts, herb picking, treasure hunting, helping strangers etc, not to mention just shooting some civilians and going on the run from the law (although this will hurt your honour and fame levels). If that's still not enough for you there is also the robust multiplayer in which you can take on a number of different classic multiplayer games such as deathmatch or capture the flag or even just roam around the world with a group of friends making trouble for NPCs. Overrall Red Dead Redemption is a superbly original and well made game that has something for everyone; a strong story, fun gameplay and exciting muliplayer, it's only drawbacks being that it is sometimes a little too easy andthe occasional bug/glitch.
If your looking for an incredible open world adventure or even just an insanley fun action game you can't do any better than Red Dead Redemption.
Thanks for reading!
- Jack Ridsdale
Darksiders is a 3rd Person action/adventure game in which you play War one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse as he fights through hordes of demons and angels in an effort to restore the balance between the two opposing forces that are waging war on a decimated Earth, 200 years after a
biblical apocalypse destroys humanity.
GAMEPLAY - The gameplay of Darksiders can easily be described as God Of War meets The Legend Of Zelda. Most of your time will be spent fighting through armies of angels and demons or solving puzzles. The combat borrows heavily from 3rd Person action games like God Of War and Devil
May Cry although this feels like a much more dumbed-down version. Most enemies
will go down with a simple mash of the square button and its extremely easy to
dodge attacks. You can utilize weapons that you collect along your travels such
as a scythe, gun, crossblade etc. but most of the time you can get by just fine
by mashing the square button which gets very tedious, very quickly. You can
purchase upgrades and items with blue souls earned by defeating enemies but are
far from necessary. You can also turn into a giant beast that can decimate
enemies for a limited time after collecting enough red souls, a cliché seen in
almost every action game for that past 10 years. Conversely the boss battles
are extremely challenging and most of them took a few attempts for me and
required some real strategic thinking to achieve victory. Unfortunately they
are very few in number and the final boss is particularly underwhelming (big
dragon anyone?). Later on the game you can ride your horse, Ruin which adds
some variety and makes one boss battle extremely intense and gripping. The
other half the game is Zelda-style puzzles which begin fairly easy but get
extremely complex and challenging in the latter parts of the game. At their
best the puzzles are challenging and rewarding to complete, at their worst they
are frustrating and ridiculously long. For every puzzles that was punchy and
enjoyable their is one that drags on for 40 minutes or longer that bored me to
tears. The game is not very original borrowing heavily from games like God Of
War, Legend of Zelda, Devil May Cry and at one point directly rips off Portal
which is pretty weak for a new IP. The game can be very fun but the lack of
complexity in the combat and bad pacing drag what could have been a great game
down. The game is about 8-10 hours in length depending on how long it takes you
to figure out the puzzles which is OK but with no additional modes like
multiplayer is not much for the asking price of £35.
STORY - The story of Darksiders is not a bad one, it just suffers from poor pacing and not enough back story. The story concerns War trying to bring peace between heaven and hell by order of the council that somehow governs over them both (no mention of what God was doing, probably
playing World of Warcraft) but the story becomes more convoluted when we find
out that War is blamed for the conflict and as the game progresses the story
get more and more confusing until I was scratching my head through every
cutscene trying to make sense of it all. It all leads to an unsatisfying
conclusion that strongly hints at a sequel. A lot of the time it feels like the
game expects you to know things that it hasn't adequately explained leaving the
player feel disconnected and uninvolved. Thankfully the voice acting is handled
GRAPHICS/AUDIO - The graphics are decent but not on the level of other games like Uncharted 2. The opening cutscene is stunning in HD and the in game environments are varied and interesting providing such locations as a destroyed city in which you fight zombified-humans and a
sun-drenched oasis in which you battle off hordes of angels with a hulking
giant at your side. The art design is one of the games strong points with
plenty of originality in the comic-book inspired character and locations
designs. I noticed some small slow down in big battles and the occasional
glitch but nothing to worry about overall. The music is suitable but nothing to
shout about. The voice acting ranges from great to average. Mark Hammill as the
creepy Watcher is fantastic which makes it all the more disappointing that when
summoned in-game he offers little more than dry banter instead of giving useful
hints or advice. Liam O'Brian as protagonist War is pretty flat for the most
part due to the uninspired dialogue. The various bosses and demons sound
Conclusion - Darksiders is by no means a bad game; it is just very, very average. If you're a fan of action games and also like some puzzles and adventure give this game a rental. Hopefully with the planned sequels Vigil Games can iron out some of the problems and add some more complexity to
realise the game's full potential.
- Jack Ridsdale
I know a lot of you may be thinking "Hey isn't this game super old?" but if like me you are a student and they're are lots of drains on your usually slim wallet then you may appreciate a perspective on a game that is a little more affordable and one that a lot of people missed the first time around. I picked up a copy of Mirror's Edge for a shocking £2.99 (roughly $5 for you yanks). So without further ado here goes my review for Mirror's Edge.
Mirror's Edge is a fairly original concept (something unusual for an AAA title), it is a first-person platformer, meaning that rather than seeing a behind-view of your character ala Prince of Persia you see from their eyes, supposedly giving you the upmost immersion. Does this work you ask? Well yes and no.
STORY - The story of Mirror's Edge starts out cool but soon becomes a pretty incomprehensible mess. The basics of it are that a dictator-like government has taken over your city, taking away the citizens freedoms. How is never really specified you just have to go along with it. You are Faith a "Runner" who must deliver messages that the totalitarian government forbids. She soon becomes wrapped up in a conspiracy that will leave you scratching your head for the most part and is, spoiler warning, not given a very good resolution at the end of the game.
GAMEPLAY - The gameplay of Mirror's Edge is a mixed bag. The game has a steep learning curve, but once you get the controls down you will be pulling off wallruns and backflips left-right and center. The real joy of Mirror's Edge comes when you can freely leap across the white-washed rooftops stringing together jumps, slides, rolls and wallclimbs. Some have complained that Faith's repertoire of moves is fairly basic however I find this to be a plus as it makes the game easier to get into, games like this can often feel overwhelming when there are too many techniques at your disposal. Some parts of the game will have your heart pumping with adrenaline as you dodge gun fire leaping between billboards and building walls and you can almost feel the wind in your hair as you nail that long jump from the top of a crane down onto a conveniently placed pile of cardboard boxes below. The emphasis is on forward momentum in Mirror's Edge and as such there is very little combat involved. You have basic punch and kick moves but your most useful move in your arsenal will be the disarm move allowing you to gracefully strip your enemy of his weapon, knocking him out in the process. Once in possession of an enemies' weapon you may use it but the gunplay is inaccurate and most guns only contain a very small amount of ammo. For the most part your best best is to ignore most enemies and keep running however combat becomes inevitable at later stages of the game. It's in this latter half of the game that it really begins to lose it's edge (pun intended). Rather than the sprawling, yet deceptively linear environments of rooftops and streets most of the later parts of the game are spent traversing hallways and tight enclosed areas which takes away the fist-pumping freedom of the open areas and creates the frustration of "what do I do now?" moments. Many times during these levels I found myself going to youtube to find out where the hell I was supposed to go, developers DICE clearly tried to combat this with the "runner vision" (press a button to show the direction you are supposed to go) however I still ran into this most immersion breaking of problems time and time again. As far as extra modes are concerned ME has a few, aside from the fairly short single player campaign there are also time trial and ghost modes but it would have been nice if they had incorporated online one-on-one races rather than just leaderboards.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO - The graphics are excellent in this game, the city is given a white-washed colour pallet with only the brightest of primary colours thrown in to indicate the correct path to follow. The sun-drenched metropolis looks incredible when moving at a steady pace and the washed out colours do a fantastic job of giving the feeling of an oppressive government attempting to create a perfect society that has somehow become warped in the process. When you get to the indoor environments the game looks much less impressive and the dark colours only serve to make the game look drab and boring. However this could be seen as intentional on the part of the developer to contrast the euphoric freedom of being outdoors with the depressingly dark and dingy houses most citizens are forced to spend most of their time in. I absolutely adored the music in this game, the atmospheric, calm and relaxing music perfectly fit the themes of the game and adds to the feeling of soaring high on the rooftops. The more fast-paced techno-like songs that pump in the more intense parts of the game is also excellent, it will really get the heart racing as you dodge those bullets. The ending theme "Still Alive" (not to be confused with the "Portal" theme) sung by Lisa Miskovsky is very catchy and will surely be stuck in your head (or on your iPod) for weeks after completing the game.
CONCLUSION - While Mirror's Edge has it's fair share of flaws, an almost non-existent story and a severely badly-paced second half the worst offendors but Mirror's Edge is a compellingly original title and a refreshing change of pace from the same old First Person Shooters we get too often. For such a cheap price I would recommend Mirror's Edge to anyone interested in a fresh new platformer. Hopefully a more refined sequel will come along sometime soon but for now I'd give Mirror's Edge a solid FULL PRICE!! Mirror's Edge is available for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.
Score: 8/10- Jack Ridsdale