Formative Films – Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007)

 

Sunshine is one of my favourite films. I remember seeing it in the cinema and being blown away by the sheer scale of the sun on a huge screen. Despite valid criticisms, I feel Sunshine is one of the best examples of a director, picking a genre they have no prior experience in and making a point-of-reference film.

Danny Boyle certainly has a chequered history in filmmaking. His huge successes seem to be the ones that speak least to his core fans. Apart from the hand grenade that was Trainspotting, commercial successes like Slumdog Millionaire and The Beach don’t hold the same appeal as Shallow Grave or A life Less Ordinary. Sunshine seems to sit in a different place from all these films and most people will struggle to remember Boyle as the director. Fans of his hard-hitting dramas won’t be drawn to the pure science fiction of sunshine anymore than the fans of his mass-appeal films. As a result, Sunshine can be entered into without any preconceptions.

Telling the story of a 2057 world where the sun is failing, Sunshine combines a cast of well-known actors just before they hit the big time. Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans are the standouts here before their comic book exploits and both vie for scene-stealing time. Each time they are both on screen the animosity between both in character is a nice parallel between their competition to act each other off the screen. It is nice to see two actors roughly the same age getting the chance to act across from each other at the beginning of their careers rather than take the Pacino, De Niro route of leaving it to the end in Heat. Keeping both under control in the early stages of the film is the ship’s captain Kaneda, played by Hiroyuki Sanada. Sanada comes across as the father figure of the film and you sense that things will break down completely if he goes, which invariably happens. These relationships are perhaps a result of Boyle making the cast live together for a time while filming as a kind of method acting.

When the predicted disaster happens on the mission it is wonderfully realised. While the whole cinematography of the film and scale is about the epic and vast nature of the sun itself, the error that causes the problem on the Icarus 2 is very human and small scale. Firstly they discover the homing beacon of the first failed Icarus mission to restart the sun. They have a round table discussion on whether or not to change course to intercept it and possible use its payload to double their chances of saving the sun. When the decision is made the course is recalculated and here is where the film breaks the simple process down to one mistake. Cappa (Murphy) makes the decision to intercept while Mace (Evans) correctly as it turns out, views it as too risky. The tension between the two from earlier in the film simmers over this decision leaving the viewer to wonder if it is a personal issue rather than professional on Mace’s part.

When the course is changed the navigation officer makes a small miscalculation and the disaster element of the film begins. Trey the navigator forgets to realign the giant heat shield at the front of the craft causing damage to the panels. Cappa and Kaneda embark on a spacewalk to fix them, ultimately leading to Kaneda’s death and the loss of the ship’s oxygen garden that was designed to get them to the sun and back. The human element of this disaster is further emphasised when Trey takes his own life as a result of the fatal error, just before Mace after a vote would have him killed to save oxygen. They are now on a one-way path and their fate is sealed.

Rather than retelling the story of Sunshine, it is worth looking at some of the flaws in the film that arrive at this point. Pinbacker, the captain from the first Icarus turns into a religious zealot who feels the earth should die. He gets onto Icarus 2 and begins behaving like the Alien, from Ridley Scott’s seminal film. But how did Pinbacker survive? The answer despite not being apparent can only be that he killed his own crew and then had enough oxygen and vegetables to survive. The Pinbacker who terrorises the Icarus crew is also stronger than the average human and almost skinless because of overexposure to the sun. While it makes an iconic and shocking villain, it doesn’t always play well to an audience. He could have spent the whole time, training and building up a tolerance to the sun, but this leaves too much for the viewer to surmise.

The other issue is the science behind restarting the sun with a nuclear bomb. If the sun is dying, then surely it has just used up all its fuel? Would nuking it do anything other than make it burn faster? In real terms, it might speed up the eventual death of the sun but generate enough heat to help the Earth in the short term. A scientist may be able to help me in the comments.

Despite these two notable issues, there is too much else going on in the film to notice. The stellar performances aside the real star is the thumping soundtrack by Underworld. There are many standouts but Adagio in D minor in its’ entirety or sped up for Kaneda’s death Part 2 are transcendent and have been used in many a trailer. They are the perfect accompaniment to the sheer scale and power of the sun. If possible see this film on a big screen as seeing the whole cinema illuminated by the sun is a cleverly used ploy that unfortunately, too many people missed out on.

What really makes this a formative film to me is the way Boyle, taking inspiration from Alien, 2001 and the original Solaris, tried and succeeded with his first effort in the Sci-Fi genre. Unfortunately, because he hadn’t prior success in the field people didn’t view it as kindly as it deserved despite it showing that a director who studies other films of the type can make an original film in his own right to add to the masterpieces.

Booking The Imperfect World – The WWE’s New Kayfabe

A week after the dust has settled on the Undertaker retiring at Wrestlemania 33, I suddenly realised this was a milestone for myself. Despite watching wrestling my whole life, The first Wrestlemania I experienced as a live fan was the first the Undertaker affected me in, Wrestlemania 8. He had a small match against his former ally Jake the Snake Roberts, notable for his ‘no sell’ on a DDT and Jake’s amazing sell on a tombstone piledriver outside the ring. I genuinely thought his neck was broken. It was a nice, memorable well worked match, now forever immortalised as number 2 of the streak. Looking back at how I viewed this match as a child with full belief in kayfabe and how I view it now set me off into a train of thought on the whole thing. I believe kayfabe is not only alive and well but is manipulating the adult WWE universe just like I was manipulated as a child because it has changed form.

TAKER SNAKE WM8
Courtesy of WWE Network The most frightening Tombstone ever

To begin, the word Kayfabe is horrible. I hate using it, I hate it when it is used by any wrestling fan and I hate what it says about me writing a long piece on it. It has been used as an excuse for bad storytelling and poor execution since the attitude era ended. Only recently are we coming into a new age of Kayfabe, I call the ‘Imperfect World’ which I will try and break down.

If you are reading this you probably know about theworkofwrestling.com. Tim Kail, via podcasts and long writing pieces, breaks down, wrestling as a work of art. I too share this belief as an adult and despite disagreements from time to time I feel we both want the same thing. We want to experience the ‘POP’ of the crowd. The feeling you get when wrestling has done its job and played you like a fiddle before rewarding you with a moment that feels like it was made for you. I submitted a question to Kim arguing that the use of social media was the biggest enemy of Kayfabe in the modern age. Tim disagreed, pointing out much more pressing concerns with the current product and it was left at that.  I just couldn’t accept that wrestlers that I grew up idolising would tweet at each other, or allow themselves to be pictured with each other or worse still play video games with Xavier Woods, it hurt my soul every time someone who had built a credible persona would ruin it all by tweeting some congratulations on a great match even in defeat. I mean could you imagine Bret Hart, taking to twitter after the Montreal Screw Job and saying, ‘I didn’t want it to end like this WWE universe but thanks for the memories’ only to have it liked by Shawn Michaels and Vince. No, it wouldn’t happen. Yet reading Bret’s book, getting an inside view of how the fan reaction is the goal, opened me up to this theory of the modern kayfabe. If the end goal is any kind of a reaction from the crowd, does it matter how they get there?

‘The Imperfect World’

This can best be described as it was in the film The Matrix. Agent Smith, was talking about the fabricated world humanity was made to live in and how the first efforts were a utopia for the inhabitants. Of course, they didn’t believe what was happening and the mind rejected it as a dream. They were forced to put them into an essentially miserable world punctuated by only brief moments of happiness. Sound Familiar…

AGENT SMITH
Agent Smith knew humans reject perfection

It is my belief and argument, that the current creative forces in the WWE are employing the same principle in their own cleverly constructed answer to kayfabe. You see the original concept of kayfabe was that the crowd believed as gospel everything they saw in the ring. You only need to look back at the Road Warriors spiking Dusty Rhodes eye, the nights when the crowd threatened to riot to get at the four horsemen and the belief in the hatred between the Rock and Roll Express and The Midnight Express. The crowd were pulled along and whipped into a frenzy of bloodlust that kept them coming back night after night in the hope the result would go their way. Every once in a while it did and the pop was real. Of course, this all changed with the internet, social media and even gambling websites, which accurately reveal some pay per view results, such as Randy Orton winning the Royal Rumble in 2017. For a business whose end goal hasn’t changed, the loss of their main tool is catastrophic. This is why they have created the ‘imperfect world’ kayfabe we have to tolerate today.  You see the creative can’t give you what you want because we as logical fans who know they exist will reject it.

The Perfect Event

Think of your favourite and most memorable WWE PPV. Chances are every match on the card didn’t go the way you wanted, yet there was enough of a balance to make you remember the event as a good one. If creative designed a ‘perfect’ event our wrestling loving brains would simply reject it and look for some motive or real reason behind the joy we have just witnessed. My immediate thought on this is the triumph of the ‘yes’ movement at Wrestlemania 30. If we take the Daniel Bryan storyline leading up to that event in complete isolation it is the poster child of giving the fans what they want. It culminated in a whole arena being pleased with the end result of a match and the effect was transcendent. It will live with me to my deathbed despite not being his biggest fan. Now imagine every match on that card had the same detail in build, execution and legacy. You can’t do it because it is impossible, it just doesn’t happen. You would reject it and by turn reject wrestling altogether. I know this because the same happened me.

HHH RETURNS
THE FACE RETURN OF THE GAME

Triple H was my favourite character leading up to his original quad injury. His heel run and Game persona spoke to me in a way no one had since early Bret Hart. When he got injured I was deprived of my favourite character for a year. There were teases of his return and a whole event with sledgehammers as stage props.  Yet still, they held him back. When he did return, the pop and my own reaction’s were pure emotion, it hit the peak of my wrestling fandom and I thought it could only get better. I was wrong and despite winning the Rumble and the undisputed title at Wrestlemania, Triple H wasn’t the same. If you like he had reached the plateau. I lost interest in his character and even left wrestling for a while. Now try to tell me that Daniel Bryan, even with no injuries would have hit the heights of that amazing night again. That is the perfect example of being given what you want as a fan. Once you get it, it’s over. WWE never want their product to end, never want us to say their creative is perfect and never want us to give up feeling that it is ok to leave the product.

They Know You Know

Because ‘they know you know’ the only way to generate the interest and keep the cash rolling is to come up with their own kayfabe. Are we seriously meant to believe that the WWE creative team are so bad that they come up with some of the endings we saw at Wrestlemania 33? Money is no object for the company so they have recruited some of the best scriptwriters going. For things to be so poor at times the only logical answer is that they are being illogical on purpose. Take what happened between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton at Wrestlemania. This was a poor match from every conceivable angle.

The build up was good, Randy won the Rumble then Bray finally won his deserved first title setting up a perceived organic conflict between the two allies. We had time to think this may happen, the first denial of it by Randy and then the turn and two weeks of build up. All this led the educated wrestling fans to believe that Bray would retain his belt with or without the help of the never-seen Sister Abigail character. What we got was a horrible in ring effect portraying Bray Wyatt’s special powers and an RKO win out of nowhere which would have been in keeping with Randy Orton from a few years ago. It was an ending that didn’t satisfy on any level. Orton retains this mythical finisher, which supposedly can take down any wrestler and the whole build of the Bray character has been destroyed in one moment. What did this match cause among the wrestling community? Was the heat generated in the perceived unfairness and downright lack of quality equal to the outrage felt when people thought the Road Warriors had blinded Dusty Rhodes? The answer can only be yes, but instead of storming the ring baying for blood, we take to our computers, our podcasts and our social media accounts to vent our fury and disbelief at such a poor match. The end result is pretty much the same. The WWE get the publicity, hits and attention that matches used to get by being shocking in the ring.

The number of times interference or dirty tactics helped a good heel like Ric Flair retain a belt, now translates to a poor booking decision. Every eye rake is now a pen stroke on a script and yet the machine keeps rolling on. Roman Reigns is the most polarising character in WWE history, even more so than John Cena. This is a character who keeps getting ‘booked’ as a babyface or hero character despite fan reaction clearly saying he should be a heel. Everytime Reigns is booked opposite to the demands of the international wrestling community it is another log on the burning fire that keeps the business going. You could not ask for a better reaction than he got at the RAW after Wrestlemania. After retiring the last beloved superstar from the era of legends, he marched into the ring and was met by 10 minutes of booing. The crowd were nuclear for him and it was one of the most memorable segments on any WWE show in years. Just think of how many keyboard presses there have been since the Undertaker made that long walk from the ring on Sunday night. How many clicks, how many youtube reaction videos and how much consternation sitting in front of the TV at home?  The reaction from the fans is no different to the old and traditional reaction inside an arena to a heel.

Death of the heel

ROMAN AFTER Mania 33
Roman Reigns the consummate heel after WM 33

In a recent interview or press appointment before Wrestlemania Triple H was asked about turning Roman Reigns heel. His answer just convinced me that the ‘imperfect world’ theory I am trying to explain is alive and well. He said there was no need to officially turn him heel because he had been getting a heel reaction for the last six months. I may have summarised but the off-hand nature of the comment spoke volumes to me. If the WWE are genuinely abandoning the Face/Heel dynamic in some circumstances, then all the logical and illogical decisions of ‘creative’ make sense. In the case of Reigns and the Undertaker, it is the only explanation. At the Royal Rumble, the only reason they had to fight was the nature of the event. Reigns eliminated Taker and from that, a rivalry was born. This was not new as it used to be used all the time back to Hogan eliminating Savage, or Hogan eliminating Warrior before their eventual showdowns at mania. The difference now is the choice of who get this slot. Sitting in their creative meetings, the decision would be made on who would get the biggest reaction for retiring Taker. There was only one answer Roman Reigns. Reigns retiring Taker was like letting off a hand grenade and walking out of the room. It was precisely the scenario that everyone in the international wrestling community feared the most and they did it. They ripped the hearts out of 90% of their fanbase and that 90% remain unfulfilled and keep watching the product willing it to be the way they want it to be. It is the risk and the basis of the imperfect world. Keep it imperfect in every way and enough of the people will keep tuning in wishing it to be their best memory.

Collateral Damage to the Art Form is The Conclusion

Unfortunately, with this strategy, the art form of professional wrestling has no option but to suffer. Gone are the beautifully crafted personas and matches like Hart and Austin at Wrestlemania 13. That quite rightly is regarded as a perfect match but if there had been any hint in the build up that firstly Bret would win and secondly there would be a double turn then the match would have been portrayed as predictable. Now there is no way to avoid spoilers and as such the new kayfabe is the only option. The art form of working the crowd, bleeding and the spoken promo are shadows of their former selves and wrestling is poorer for it. The only option for us as fans is to do what the WWE wants and keep watching. There have been shoots of recovery. The return of the Hardy Boyz at Wrestlemania was a shock to those watching as they didn’t know when they would come back. The problem was we knew they would but not when. That was the moment the WWE gave to us on Sunday night so the other moments in the imperfect world theory had to be illogical and antagonistic to keep the interest. That’s why we have to put up with the rubbish of the Wyatt vs Orton match. That’s why we had a one legged Seth Rollins beating a Triple H in the physique of his life, That’s Why Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin are fighting after the most storied and prestigious title left on the roster in the pre-show. Those moments of pure rubbish are like selling so the pops will be better. They are stringing us out like addicts waiting for the eventual pop.

Say the last match had gone the way of perfection. Undertaker would have refused to go down no matter what and Reigns would have been forced to brutalise him and in doing so turn heel. Leaving a bloody and bruised Undertaker to limp his way from the ring, or be helped from the ring by Kane. As much as I am excited imagining the reaction and impact on screen this would have had, the reaction the next night on RAW would have been ‘Bad For Business’ to coin the phrase. Reigns would have got a mixed reaction. Perhaps even some cheers. His kryptonite status to the international wrestling community would be over and he would too have been on a plateau. It may be better for the art form and would allow us to enjoy his work more but it would also let some of us turn off as we knew that element had been ‘fixed’ with the WWE.

But of course, you can’t turn off from an imperfect world…

Why You Can’t Compare Zelda Breath Of The Wild And Horizon Zero Dawn

This past week has been spectacular in gaming. Two of the best games in recent years have been released in Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda Breath Of The Wild. Releasing in such a short space of time has led to many comparing the two. While there are some similarities in the genre the games could not be more different in their own ways. Unfortunately, people are always looking to be the Highlander where gaming is concerned. For these games I can assure you, the can be only one’ has never been more out of place.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an amazing game, never before have I played a more polished third-person action game. Uncharted 4 comes close but for the sheer amount going on, HZD trumps it easily. There really is no other game out there that gives you the ‘thrill of the hunt’. From the earliest encounter with the fantastically realised mechanical beasts you get a feeling of kill or be killed in every encounter. Even the way you take them down has never been implemented as well. Scan the enemy find the logical weak spot and target it in any way you can. Sometimes this is so realistic that you can’t believe what happens in front of your eyes. Take a Sawtooth, the mechanical version of a lion, sabretooth tiger or another wild cat. It is an imposing beast easily able to kill you in one or two hits. Its armour has only two weak spots and those have different weaknesses as well. The fuel tank underneath the animal is susceptible to fire and if you can hit it with a fire arrow will explode dealing massive damage. The downside of this is how close you need to be to get a guaranteed hit on the tank. You can be close enough for the explosion to injure you leaving both you and the Sawtooth injured and in a next it kills scenario. After this try fighting two at once when ducking and diving around the ancient ruins of a skyscraper.

Zelda Breath Of The Wild has been compared to Horizon Zero Dawn because of a few genre specifics. They are both third-person open world experiences. Both characters can fire arrows. Here is where any comparison between the two must end. Zelda Breath Of The Wild isn’t so much a game as it is a sandbox for you. Where HZD is the pinnacle of open world games design at the moment, Zelda is playing by a different set of rules. Zelda has far more in common with Minecraft than any other game I have played. There is literally no pressure on you to proceed in any direction you don’t want. HZD has the best open world quests, but these are simply a checklist of things to do to 100% the game. Zelda doesn’t seem to care what you do and how you do it. There is the brief awakening scene then you are out in the world with only your logical brain to help you. To make things even better you can turn the HUD to Pro for the purist’s experience. This removes all screen furniture except the heart counters. It means you have to actually look and see what is happening. If Link is warm he will sweat, if there are rain and lightening in the air he will need to dress accordingly. Wear metal armour elements in the lightening and expect to get hit.

The logical thinking pattern in Zelda removes it from the tropes and video game elements that HZD does so well, this is why it is unfair to mention the two together. In HZD You level up you get XP and you do quests. You sneak into an enemy bandit camp and use the skills learnt in the game, you know you have to get close enough to an enemy to do a stealth kill, you know the grass is placed just in the right place to give you a chance of doing it all unseen and you know enemy placement will be just in the most awkward places.

Zelda still has enemy goblin camps to take down but there is not really need to, to progress the story. When you come to the camp your brain lets you pick any way you want to take them down. One camp had a large tree nearby. Having lifted a woodcutter’s axe, it ought to myself I could chop down the great tree to land on the three enemies huddled around the fire in the camp. It almost worked. The tree killed one and alerted the other two. They managed to hit me and knock me off the cliff where I, unfortunately, drowned after a clumsy mix between climbing up the cliff and swimming. Another way to do this camp could have been to sneak in while they were sleeping, steal their weapons then wake them in an unarmed defenceless panic. If you can come up with a way to do it, Zelda Breath Of The Wild will no doubt allow you to come very close to it and that is the key difference in the games. HZD will allow you to kill the enemy in any order and way you can think off using the tools provided. Zelda simply removes the tools and leaves them up to your imagination. By this I mean HZD won’t let you cause an explosion to collapse some of the architecture of the game onto the enemy, whereas that is an option open to you in Zelda. The world is more like Minecraft than a tightly crafted experience, it is a genre of its own, just like Minecraft. If Minecraft is an open world building sim then Zelda is closest to an open world deconstruction. Instead of building camps and enemies, you are using the game engine and the world to defeat and deconstruct them. It is simply a beautiful and brilliant game engine that allows the feeling of ‘breaking’ a game to become natural. If you solve a puzzle or shrine in ten seconds, it is ok the game will likely get you back with the next one. It is down to you, how you do this and up to your psyche how you mentally handle this. Can you let go of all you like about open-world games, collecting artefacts, levelling up to unlock skills, and reaching observation towers to reveal the map? If you let these go and just ‘live’ in Zelda’s world, ten you will experience greatness. If you want the best version of what you are used to then get Horizon Zero Dawn.

Aloy, Horizon Zero Dawn And The Journey Towards Equality In Gaming

Horizon Zero Dawn is with us, but there is no point in doing an in-depth review. It is such a good game and the developers Guerrilla were so confident that the big outlets have had their copies for weeks and the reviews are out. Enough of my rant, Horizon Zero Dawn and the main character Aloy, are part of the evolution of female characters in gaming and to a lesser extent feminism in gaming. Times have changed since all you had to do in games was rescue women.

As a qualifier, I am male so am hardly the best feminist advocate, instead it is better to show how my own opinions on the female characters I have encountered in gaming have changed. Starting with the case in point Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy is loosely based on Ygritte from Game Of Thrones. She has the same red hair and fiery temper and carries this whole game. Her being female never enters the equation. She is just the strong hero character who happens to be female. She outwits enemies and under your control takes down some of the largest on-screen beasts seen since Shadow Of The Colossus. Because I haven’t gotten far into the game, I cannot confirm if her gender ever becomes a storyline or issue, but from what I have played I expect not. With the game being set after the fall of humanity, maybe that’s where we need to get to before there is true gender equality.

To look at how we have got to this point in gaming it is probably best to reverse engineer our way through a few of the strongest females in gaming. Starting with Lara Croft. The modern Tomb Raider herself is more in the mould of the Aloy character. Influenced by the Uncharted series of games, Lara is now at least dressed for the occasion. Gone are the hot pants and sun tops, that were out of place for exploring and in come the heavy coats and survival gear. In the recent Rise of The Tomb Raider and the previous reboot Tomb Raider, Lara is very much in the Aloy style, she is just the main character of the game who happens to be female. No other mention of her gender should be made or spoken of. It doesn’t come into the equation other than some enemies in the first game perhaps overpowering her to their cost. Think back to the days of Angelina Jolie and the film version of Tomb Raider. She was purely a fantasy figure not grounded in reality in any way, much like the games of the time. As well as her unrealistic physical proportions, the outfits were pure adolescent male fantasy. This was proven in the failure of the film franchise and the near-death of the game franchise. As gaming changed, Lara had to change also.

While it is all very well having a good strong female character forced upon you, what happens when the choice is yours. With the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, the potential for choice throws up a number of issues and freedoms. The first choice in any of these games is your own character. Myself I always picked a male because I liked the escapism of trying to see how I would respond to the choices and circumstances in the game. To take the worst case scenario, people can use these games as a way of chatting up the various female characters they meet and it can enforce sexual stereotypes. However, the mere fact that all the characters in these games are available to romance no matter your gender makes these the high point of gaming for equality. While people can argue over the character stereotypes in these games, they cannot deny that the ability to have relationships with any character or even more revolutionary, have relationships with none of them have changed the gaming landscape since their release. The Sheppard character in Mass Effect, while of your own choosing is a pioneer for many gender and equality issues. Just google the term Femshep and you will find more qualified writings than this on the matter. The upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda and recent Dragon Age Inquisition, carry this trend on.

With all the recent good there have to be some bad examples of females in gaming. The recent Final Fantasy 15 has a female character at the beginning that stands out for all the wrong reasons. The mechanic character is basically a cosplay character, that again goes back to the early Lara Croft stereotype. A case of two steps forward with Aloy and Lara and one back with Cindy the mechanic, while some of this may be attributed to the eastern attitudes and styles in these games, it shows that the war for feminism in gaming is far from over. Women in Grand Theft Auto are equally marginalised. In GTA V it would have been nice to have a female character as one of the leads, especially in a game that is world renowned. FIFA have incorporated women’s teams, but it feels like an afterthought.

My own experiences start with Mario. Mario has to go and rescue the defenceless Princess Peach. Final Fight, Streets Of Rage and Double Dragon had women who need rescuing. Part of the problem is that I never thought this was a problem. The first time there was a strong character was in Street Fighter 2. Chun Li was one of the best characters and yet some people used to pause the game to look up her skirt. Bearing in mind I have been gaming for 25 plus years and there have been only a handful of credible female heroines or even characters, Samus from Metroid, Lara, Chun Li, Sniper Wolf, The Boss, Morrigan, and Aloy speaks volumes.

My own personal favourite is a controversial choice, Bayonetta. While some people will now call into question everything I have said before, Bayonetta to me is a good choice. What other character can dress and act like she does yet still be the strong female character? She actively uses her femininity not to succeed but because that is who she is. Because of her sexual orientation, she is not there to be titillation to male gamers. It is just who she is. Surely that is what we need to work towards. Strong female characters who cannot be pigeonholed and can act whatever way they want for all gamers, male and female. Hopefully, in a few years, this won’t even be a topic of discussion. Characters will just be characters, however, with the recent state of political affairs and the furore over the Tracer character in Overwatch, we are still a distance away from gender equality in game characters.

Halo Wars 2 Review – MOBA Elements, Amazing Cutscenes, But More Of The Same Gameplay

When the original Halo Wars released, I was hooked. An accessible, simple RTS with an IP I loved on a console. This was the time when only the excellent Tropico was your only option if you weren’t in the PC master race. Now with me having the Macbook primarily for RTS gaming, Halo Wars 2 was never going to hook me the same. So is it nostalgia or does the game offer something worthwhile on Xbox one and Windows 10 play anywhere?

The campaign of these games always appeals to me and Halo Wars 2 has come up with a cracking story. Focussing on a previously unheard of race of brutes who defied the Covenant led by a huge Brute called Atriox. The first mission after the lengthy and frankly boring tutorials, has you leading a team of Spartans on a Warthog to a distress signal. Here you meet the Cortana equivalent A.I., Isabel and get attacked by Atriox and his faction, the Banished. It is a nice way to expand the Halo universe and one description of the Banished is particularly good. The game says that while the force of the Covenant nearly wiped out humanity, it never came close to defeating the Banished. After watching this excellent cut scene you are more hyped to play an actual Halo shooter than the RTS.

Unfortunately, this is a feeling that pervades the whole game. It has some of the best cutscenes and story beats of the entire Halo franchise, that frankly leave you wanting more. What you get after these scenes is always a change of pace. Being a strategy game, levels begin at a slower pace. So you get this amazing cut scene but are then are jolted into the base building or small force attacking stage, so common at the beginning of these levels. Luckily the basic strategy game holds up.

Halo Wars 2, borrows heavily from a number of other strategy titles. When I played the first game, I hadn’t had the exposure to RTS games like Starcraft, Civilisation and the Dawn Of War Series, my experiences were with Command and Conquer Generals, Cannon Fodder, Stronghold, Black and White, Total War and the underrated Command and Conquer 64. Because I feel Halo Wars borrows from Dawn of War, Starcraft and Civ, I thought Halo Wars was a bit more unique than it actually was. But despite this, the core gameplay is competent if not spectacular. Bases are built and then buildings can be placed only in specific tiles around the base, like an early Civ. You need to upgrade your base to get more tiles and better units. Unfortunately despite saying your men will gather resources when near them, they really don’t and you will notice this from the tutorial. The group of marines will literally stand near resources and not collect them until you walk over them. Once your base is upgraded you have access to defence turrets and all the vehicles of the Halo Universe. Despite not being free-form base building this does have the effect of keeping your base nice and tidy, a must with no mouse and keyboard on a console.

The movement of troops is more similar to the Dawn Of War series, often there are lengthy gunfights nicely animated between your forces and the Banished, especially if your troops are garrisoned. While garrisoning doesn’t play as large a part as it does in Dawn of War it still serves the same purpose. When you introduce vehicles to the mix everything takes on a more Starcraft feel. Marines are good against airborne vehicles but poor against ground vehicles. Airborne vehicles can take out land ones easily and the last piece of the rock, paper scissors are the land vehicles taking out inventory. The theme of the game seems to be to keep things simple for everyone but allow players to use advanced tactics like groups and rally points if they think it will help them. Personally, in a game as simple as this, I don’t see the benefit of them but having advanced controls there is welcomed if a little cumbersome on the gamepad.

There is the usual suite of multiplayer options after the campaign is over but unless you devote serious study into the game you will suffer badly online, especially against anyone playing with a mouse and keyboard. It just feels more natural and allows them to get things done quicker meaning they are always a step ahead. It almost makes you wish this wasn’t available on Windows 10 as well if only to keep the playing field level. Never will this be as noticeable as in the new mode Blitz.

Blitz, is a welcome mash up of MOBA and card collecting game. It features two base areas and three control points similar to Heroes Of The Storm or other MOBAS, yet incorporates a collectable deck building game into it as well.It seems to be trying to do too much for too many people. Despite only spending a short time with this mode, the huge amount of variables and options available are staggering. There are a number of hero characters you can select and then use either their standard deck or custom decks you build for them. After you have built your deck it is onto the battlefield where you have to accumulate your power to use your cards. You can get random power drops or control the points. The overall point score to win is 200 and you only begin scoring points when you have control of more points than your enemy. It would be a great game locally but in the hostile online MOBA world, I can see this mode getting very competitive and unapproachable, very quickly. Some people will welcome this, but as advertised it should be a simple, quick alternative to a full match, yet is more complicated and takes more time to set up than any other mode.

Maybe a MOBA expert could assess this area of the game better than me but until then you just need to know that Halo Wars 2 is more of what made Halo Wars enjoyable. It has amazing cutscenes and a Halo quality storyline. Unfortunately, the base game has not really evolved from the first and the multiplayer modes, steep learning curves will put many players off.

Pixel Gear PSVR Review – Fun and Cheap Example Of Perfect Shooting Mechanics

Unfortunately, as many thought, the mass amount of PSVR games at launch has not been added to as stock shortage and the lack of profit for developers on the system bite. One advantage is lesser games can now get a chance to shine in this very unique platform. Pixel Gear is one such game.

A simple wave-based shooter, Pixel gear has one of the best shooting engines in a game. It feels almost pixel perfect already and you can really line up accurate headshots and more at the colourful range of characters coming towards you. There are skeleton soldiers, bats with pumpkin bombs, trolls and what looks like Shrek with a huge shield all stumbling towards your very realistic arsenal of four weapons.

You have a heavy calibre pistol, a submachine gun, a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher. All of these are realised superbly in a strange cartoon world. Playing the game made me feel like I was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Here with all these small cartoon or pixel generated enemies coming towards me, I pull out a gun that wouldn’t look out of place in Blade Runner and let rip at them. Things get even more surreal when you use the machine gun or sniper rifle. The Machine gun lets you blast hundreds of rounds at these cute characters until they drop. The sniper rifle is even better, it floats in front of you as you wave your move controller, but the scope is visible. At first, I thought there was some button that might snap me into the zoomed in view, but then like a lot of VR games, practicality and common sense kick in and I moved my eye closer to the scope. Moments like this really make you feel like the future is here. Unfortunately, the sniper rifle plays like a shaky version of the old Silent Scope arcade game so it is best to stick with the other three weapons where possible.

Waves continue and there are bonus shooting galleries at the end where you either shoot ghosts or angels. If you shoot the floating angels you lose points. Points then equate to coins that can first purchase new weapons and secondly upgrade them. Upgrading comes in handy as before long bosses come into play. The first can only be described as a massive faceless witch, that looks like the black spy from Spy vs Spy.

In all this is a fun VR experience lifted above average by excellent pixel perfect shooting mechanics. Definitely, one for your partners and guests to the house to play. At the sub £5 I picked it up for it is a nice alternative to the London Heist and other more serious VR shooters.

Passengers Review – A Film Full Of ‘Why’

The tagline outside the cinema read, ‘They woke up for a reason’. Naturally, this led me to expect some form of antagonist in the latest sci-fi drama starring Hollywood darlings Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Unfortunately, the only antagonist is the viewer as they leave the cinema.

Some people will just love the romantic drama on display here. The film boils down to forgiveness. If you had met the person of your dreams in tragic circumstances, fell in love and were truly happy. Could you forgive the person who caused those circumstances? When the film plays to these strengths it is good. Both actors are more than competent at whatever they do and Pratt as always manages to be extremely likeable and funny no matter what he is doing. Where the film fails is in the sci-fi elements. When I say fail, I don’t mean it is an absolute stinker, it just doesn’t follow through on some of the great ideas and premises it conjures up. If you have seen the trailer for this film, you will be expecting one hour and fifty-six minutes of pulse-pounding action as the pair try to escape from whatever is making the ship do terrible things. What you get is very different.

The answer to everything is unfortunately revealed in the first few seconds of the film. The ship is merrily making its way to the new planet where people of skills are going to colonise. A meteor manages to hit the shields of the ship causing some kind of malfunction inside. It isn’t made clear but as Pratt wakes up almost immediately after most people will tie the two together. I didn’t, more out of blind hope for an antagonist than logic. From here Pratt does his best as the only person awake on the massive sprawling ship. He does all the things you would expect someone to do in this scenario in what comes across as a modern day Red Dwarf. His only company is the robot bartender Arthur, played with a hint of malice by Michael Sheen. Sheen serves the drinks and dishes out advice with hidden venom throughout and steals any scene he is in. He is also the unwitting driving force of the film.

The main question I alluded to earlier comes around when Pratt’s character is woken from hibernation 90 years away from the destination planet. This obviously means he will die before reaching the end. After a year or so with only Arthur as his company, he completely falls for the ‘sleeping beauty’ of Lawrence’s Aurora Lane. As stupidly named a character that you will ever see. He then has the moral conundrum. Kill himself due to chronic loneliness or wake her up from hibernation, in effect killing her as well. Of course, he gives in wakes her and the movie truly begins. Arthur is the one who breaks this news to Aurora after another year has passed leading to much angst. All very good in a dramatic and philosophical way. What would you do? Could you live with yourself? All good questions, that should be in the audiences head. Until the final act.

Here the film suddenly realises that this could become very boring. Two people and a robot bartender in space not really talking or interacting with each other. As a result, a third human wakes from sleep. Laurence Fishburne plays a crew chief who grants access to other parts of the ship. He learns what Pratt has done but now things on the ship are breaking down quickly and the three of them need to work together to save the lives of the other 4997 on board. These sections are where the film got the trailer from. There are some dramatic set pieces but unfortunately, the real drama gives way to some very alarming plotholes from this moment in. Fishburne’s character is very sick from being woken from hibernation, in fact, he dies not long after explaining a bit of how the ship works to the other two. This leaves the question of why he got sick from being woken up when the other two are fine?

We also learn that everything that has gone wrong came as a result of the initial contact with a meteor in the first few frames. So no shadowy conspiracy, no plot twist and no deeper story. It all boils down to a fluke and freak accident. needless to say, the day is saved with another improbable action scene and the use of an incredible piece of equipment the Autodoc. The Autodoc is the most amazing futuristic element of the film. You put a patient in this it diagnoses their ailments and then cures them if possible. Unfortunately Laurence Fishburne was too far gone. This device saves one of the main protagonists and reveals a feature which will allow one person using it to return to hibernation and as a result not die and reach the destination. Pratt offers this to Lawrence as he should yet we get no resolution of this storyline. the film ends a few moments later with a voice over from Lawrence as the rest of the 4997 on board awake to find a forest on board the ship from the tree Pratt planted. They presumably stayed together and died together but we dont know. This caused me to leave the cinema rather perplexed.

For a start we are to believe that there is only one Autodoc on board this ship to service 5000 souls? What if it breaks down? What about the earlier statement from Pratt, that there are enough spare parts to rebuild anything on the ship? No neither of these are resolved. Neither is the thought that one of these characters will die before the other leaving the survivor free to use the machine and despite their old age be able to tell the heroic story to the rest of the passengers. Aurora Lane is a journalist after all and is writing a journal about this. No nothing is resolved and we are left with a film two-thirds drama and one-third sci-fi on a lever with the much superior Sunshine by Danny Boyle.

Definitely, one to take a partner to just don’t expect what you see in the trailer or promotional material.

Rogue One – Heavy Handed, CGI Moff Tarkin And Totally Lacking In Nuance

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Rogue One A Star Wars Story features some of the best environments and special effects ever seen. Unfortunately, there are a few points which are so poorly done that they drop this from a solid and potentially epic spin-off to the level of The Phantom Menace. Here are the key problems.

CGI Moff Tarkin – The number one problem in this film. Unfortunately, the great Peter Cushing is no longer with us but that hasn’t stopped the makers of this film giving his character an incredible amount of screen time. When we first see him he is looking out over the construction of the Death Star. You can tell by the ‘poor’ accent it is Tarkin and you get a blurred reflection of his face. Here is where the film should have left the Tarkin character. Instead, he turns round and continues to take part in the scene. The CGI is not at the level that it needs to be for this kind of interaction. This is far below the level of Gollum in Lord Of The Rings. It is even poorer than the CGI in Terminator 2. You will never get over seeing Moff Tarkin in these scenes. It is such a break from reality that you cannot forget it. When Princess Leia appears at the end she is also CGI but handled slightly better. The makers have managed to create a CGI character more annoying than Jar Jar Binks. Some achievement.

The heavy-handed links to the original trilogy

Oh dear oh dear. Think of your target audience for this film. They will have seen the original trilogy. They will probably have seen all the Star Wars films multiple times. They do not need hit over the head with the proverbial hammer every time something harkens back to the original film series. The only thing missing is the characters turning to the camera and winking. It is not subtle. It is blunt and again removes you from the story it is trying to tell and detracts from the otherwise excellent performances. Felicity Jones, as Jyn Erso is brilliant. She judges the performance between criminal and freedom fighter and is the focus of every scene she is in. You become invested in her story until they are forced to try and bring you back to the fact that this film directly sets up episode four. Lines are put in, characters appear without context and Darth Vader has a force choking moment. Worse than this is the unnecessary amount of humour. In the Force Awakens and the original trilogy the humour feels organic and has a touch of the gallows about it. In Rogue One, the jokes feel like they have been inserted by a professional comedian. The droid character K-2SO, is genuinely funny with a deadpan humour that harkens back to early Han Solo. But after the initial humour, they feel the need for him to make a sarcastic comment at every turn. There are other jokes that feel out of place in a film which is essentially about a fabled suicide mission.

The Simple Story Manages To Be Confusing

This should have been the equivalent of a Saving Private Ryan or Dirty Dozen in the Star Wars Universe. We needed longer with the band of characters we see. A few more minutes with the crew of Rogue One would have made all the difference. Instead, we get this collection of amazing scenes and set pieces which get ruined by terrible missteps. Vader’s choking scene is pure fan service and he looks out of place. When he attacks the shuttle at the end we see what Vader is really like. He carves his way through a score of rebel troopers using his lightsaber and the force chasing them down until the film ends exactly where Episode 4 begins. Unfortunately, this could be a case of Disney making some alterations to appeal to a younger audience. Certainly, the subject matter of a suicide mission does not lend itself to normal Star Wars outcomes. Suicide missions in Star Wars usually end up with a miracle rescue. This doesn’t. This film could have been so more. Instead, it feels like a very good Star Wars novel or Video game. Everything that relates back to the original trilogy is shoe-horned in. If there had been more subtle moments then it would have been perfect. The space battle at the end features the same squadrons that we see on the original attack on the Death Star. It is nice to see Gold Leader actually doing something useful for a change. Instead of these moments we get R2D2 and C3PO pointlessly saying they are going to be on the ship to Scariff. We get the two thugs that Luke and Obi-Wan dispatch in Mos Eisley inserted in another town saying the same lines just before the city is nuked. Now how did they escape that to get to Mos Eisley in time for Episode 4 a matter of days later? This, adds another plot hole where it isn’t necessary. For a film that bluntly ties off any hint of a loose end, making another is strangely out of place.

In all this is a missed opportunity. It insults the intelligence of its target audience but may be loved by a younger generation or dare we say it the casual viewer. There is much to love in the special effects and battle scenes but everything comes back to a CGI Moff Tarkin rubber-facing his way through difficult dialogue.

Modern Warfare Remastered Review – Charlie Don’t Surf, One Shot One Kill, Heat, No Fighting In the War Room And Mile High Club Remain The Ultimate Challenge On Veteran

In the third review of the big four shooters this fall after Battlefield One and Infinite Warfare we get the full HD remake of one of the best first person shooters ever made. A game that’s template has been followed but never bettered. Call Of Duty Modern Warfare.

MW Remastered The Nuke
Aftermath Modern Warfare Remastered

By now, everyone will have played this masterpiece and know what the game offers. A campaign that is memorable and a real pleasure to play on lesser levels and the stripped down competitive multiplayer that spawned a phenomenon. The graphics and textures have been fully updated for modern consoles and really shine on the PS4 Pro. Rather than tread over old review territory, I thought I would highlight the joy and pain of the best and most difficult levels to play on Veteran. If it helps anyone on their journey then all the better.

Veteran is tough, to begin with. Approximately four glancing hits will kill you or one blast from a shotgun, grenade or exploding car. You also have the increased accuracy and numbers of the enemy  to deal with. Starting with F.N.G the training mission you get an idea of how you need to move to survive in this mode. Enemy patterns must be memorised and every reload or grenade throw needs to be at the right time. More importantly, you will need a lot of luck and patience to complete te game on veteran. If you manage it you can look at your trophies or achievements with pride for years. I did it all on the Xbox 360 about nine years ago, so the challenge of doing it again at 34 with slower reflexes and less practice was too good to pass up. 

MW Remastered Shoot the Chopper
Shooting down an annoying helicopter

Charlie Don’t Surf

This should be the first time you run into a brick wall on Veteran. All levels are tough enough but here is the first time you will question whether this effort is worth it. The point, in particular, is the TV station. You are dumped into a two level TV studio with RPG troops on the floor above and  desks and PC’s in the middle. When you enter, enemy troops begin to spawn infinitely into the bottom floor. The tactic with this level as with a few is to advance yourself to a position that stops the infinite spawn, allowing you to mop up the enemies that are already there. Doing this is another thing. My tactic was to run into the room and head for an abandoned office on the bottom right as you enter. When in this room I had to survive the spawning of grenades and more until I could peek around the corner and take out any enemies to my right. After this, it was a suicide run until I got to the corner that is diagonally opposite to where you enter. Once in there I was able to stay alive and stop the infinite spawn long enough to clear the room. Time taken on section – 1 hour.

One Shot One Kill

The second flashback mission, is one many people cite as the hardest normal mission in the game. I never had as many issues as some but it is still extremely tough. After carrying your colleague through the level you have to wait on a chopper coming to lift you. You set down the captain to snipe from his position then prepare the area around the Ferris wheel . When the enemy comes they come in hordes and you have to fend them off until the chopper arrives. It takes around three minutes but feels like a lifetime. My tactic here may be viewed as a cheat but on Veteran, any advantage is acceptable in my opinion. Firstly I threw some C4 over by the dodgems and under the Ferris wheel. I then threw as many claymores as I could in the time around the general area. Then I hid inside the hut closest the wheel. I remained prone and pointed my character diagonally looking out the door with a clear view of the outside strut of the Ferris wheel. From here the enemies are unable to shoot you unless they storm the hut and 9 out of 10 grenades explode harmlessly outside. The odd enemy or grenade will come close so you will have to shoot them or throw the grenade back. When the chopper arrives, blow the c4 and hope you can get a clear path around te back of the wheel to lift the captain and carry him into the chopper. Once inside, breathe and hope you can’t get shot. Time taken on section – 2 hours.

Heat

Heat comes after an enjoyable chase to a barn in a field at the top of a hill. You have worked your way yard by yard to this barn before being told you have to make it the whole way back down the hill in four minutes. This is the level I had the biggest problem with during the normal game. There are so many variables and so many tactics that it is hard to get a decent strategy going. You have airstrikes, LMG’s , smoke grenades and sniper rifles at your disposal, yet the enemy is completely relentless in this level and can spawn at random as you make your way down the hill. The real tactic for completing this level is speed and luck. It is tempting to use the airstrikes to decimate the enemy but really there is no point as they keep coming. You need to somehow make it down the hill quickly enough to give you checkpoints. I collected a light machine gun and just charged into the field on the left. Going prone and throwing smoke I managed to make it to a small hut on the left of the field in around 40 seconds. If you do this you will get a checkpoint and be on your way. After this use the airstrikes and smoke but try to make suicide runs to get checkpoints down the hill. I went for the building in the middle and got inside for another checkpoint. A crazy jump from the second floor and run to the destroyed building got another and after that trial and error got me to the chopper. Time taken on section – 6 Hours.

No Fighting In The War Room

Oh Boy. This level tries to intimidate you with a time limit from the word go. The time limit is actually the most helpful thing here. If you don’t advance quickly enough to get checkpoints , then you won’t have enough time to complete the level. It is basically a charge through wide corridors with enemies either being in front or at your side. You will have to learn to run to a room and headshot everyone you see before hiding and letting your teammates catch up. The level actually gets easier as you go along so don’t be put off if you are seriously struggling. The first checkpoint involves sprinting to a soviet star on a stairway. You will likely get here a few times without a checkpoint triggering. If you do just restart. It means you will run out of time. The tactic is to sprint and take out men running towards you before ducking into a side room. From the side, room and take out anything you see before running to a diagonally opposite side room. As long as you keep forward momentum and stay alive the checkpoint should it at the stairs if you make it before 6:30 on the timer. The next section is a large room with three pathways. Middle, left and right. Middle has infinite spawn enemies where the left and right have hiding enemies as well. After many tries, I found the middle to be the best approach. On the way down the stairs switch to the grenade launcher. Run forward and aim to explode a grenade between the two wooden crates which will kill the enemies on both sides. Then throw flashbangs and frags straight ahead and try to kill anything that moves. At some point, you are going to have to make a suicide run straight ahead. Between frags and flashbangs hopefully, you can kill the advancing enemies, stopping the hidden enemies at either side coming into play. Break through the line and you will get a checkpoint in the next corridor. This needs to be before 5:00. The next section can be even more frustrating. You seem to be in a missile silo. You have a corridor in front that is blocked off but enemies are firing forward. To the left and right are linked corridors with a circular room at either end that links to another identical room. You have to pick a side, left or right. Fight through the two linked circular rooms before making it back onto the main corridor. The issue is the corridors can fire on you from both directions. The tactic is to kill the ones that emerge straight away. Reload and go prone just at the right-hand door. Throw a flashbang to the left corridor and crawl into the right corridor. Shoot the enemy at the end of the corridor and stand up while throwing another flashbang straight in front. Get into the circular room and hide behind the missile. Make sure you get any enemies that come through the door while blocking any crossfire with the missile from the opposite side. After this apply the same tactic in the identical room and hope to see price running ahead of you to open the door. The timer should be around 3:30 to 4:00 to get the checkpoint. After these, it is a simple case of using your veteran skills to complete the level. – Time taken on Section – 4 hours.

Mile High Club

The Ultimate challenge. You have one minute to clear a plane of terrorists and shoot a terrorist in the head to save a hostage. Anyone who has tried will tell you this is the ultimate test of reflexes luck and patience. It can seem unfair but the more you play the better you get up to a point. Enemies don’t infinite spawn but they are more accurate and hide in more corners than ever. Charge straight ahead and ignore or knife the guy in the toilet. Kill the two men at the end of the corridor and throw the flashbang. Clear the men out either by shooting through the seats or picking your shots. Flash as the hull breaches, clear the stairs and head left. Flash the room and kill anything that is not stunned. Flash the final corridor and run past the enemies to get to the final shot in under one minute. 9 years ago I completed it but unfortunately as of yet I cannot. I can get three-quarters way through the plane but run out of time. One day I will complete it again but at the moment I need to set it down for a while. The variables in your own player skill and enemy placement and behaviour make this a real matter of attrition. I will do it again someday but at the moment there is too much to play.

So there you have it, the game is as fresh as it ever was and the brilliant campaign and multiplayer make this the surprise of the fall season. If you are doing the veteran run be prepared for the difficulty to be higher as either your reflexes have dulled or your patience has shortened. Good luck soldiers.

Battlefield One Review – EA Creates A Sombre Masterpiece

In our second review of the big four shooters this fall, we take a look at Battlefield One. A game that takes the romantic elements of World War One and layers them in the necessary realistic grit to make the game a poignant reminder that war is not a good thing in any shape or form.

As seems to be the trend with these shooters the single player campaign has received a decent amount of detail. Perhaps due to the stinging criticism of Star Wars Battlefront and the lack of a decent single player element, EA has included a reasonably robust few hours of AI blasting. Starting as one of a group of soldiers from Harlem, you face the impossible task of defending a point from a horde of enemy troops. Despite your best efforts, you eventually run out of bullets and die. Think the ending of Halo Reach and you are about right. Instead of respawning, the game cleverly shows your birth year and then the death year as the screen fades to black only for you to be transported into the body of another soldier at a different point on the map. This simple yet chilling example of how expendable human life was during World War One sticks with you as a player throughout the entire game. No matter if your character does well and kills the enemy or you miss your shot and get killed by a flamethrower the result is the same. You die, nobody remembers and the game moves on to the next soldier. It is something that should be carried on as standard in these historical shooters and generates a feeling similar to the classic ‘No Russian’ level in Modern Warfare 2. You question why you are aiming down the iron sights and mowing down countless enemies. Soon the feeling subsides and you carry on with the game and reach the first one of these ‘War Stories’ proper. The feeling subsides but never leaves you.

The single-player or ‘War Stories’ are five short scenarios that last around an hour or so each. Bringing you up to the new standard campaign length of 5-6 hours. You play one set in a tank, another in a plane. One as an Italian armor plated soldier, one as a naval soldier and the final coup de gras as one of the soldiers who helped Lawrence of Arabia. In all an eclectic group that shows how diversely spread this War was. It wasn’t called the ‘great war’ for nothing. Despite having the enemy carry out the usual wrong doings in these levels that feeling from the first never leaves you and no matter how heroic your actions are the feeling at the end is quite flat. There are no hoorah’s that you find in COD here. Battlefield hits the spot where the old COD’s and Medal Of Honour’s reside. You kill, you have a good competitive game but in the end, you realize war isn’t fun.

The game hammers this point home despite the imaginative and excellent gameplay. The Italian in an armor suit levels, in particular, are harrowing. Your only motivation in this set of levels is to support the advance of your brother. Immediately you forget the ridiculousness of the situation. Here you have a simple soldier who has covered himself in armor and is walking along the battlefields of World War One like The Terminator. Suddenly, because of the tone set by the game, this becomes an entirely plausible and emotional battle despite being akin to the scene from a mid 80’s Arnold Schwarzenegger epic.

In real terms, despite the welcome focus on single-player the real meat of any Battlefield game is the Multiplayer. On this count, the game delivers on all fronts. Each type of match is a brutal unforgiving war that can suffer momentum changes and pivotal moments at multiple points. The real difference between COD and Battlefield games are the feel. COD is a slick no-nonsense shooter where it comes down to who can pull the trigger quickest. While there is scope for this in Battlefield as well, there is a completely more organic feeling to the maps. Battlefield games let you play as a proper Sniper. You have a scope and you have one shot. If you hit the enemy anywhere below the waist you have revealed your position and they will not die. If you hit them in the chest there is a 50/50 chance it will be enough. You have to go for the head. You also have to take the drop of the bullet and the distance into account. In all the risks of playing as a sniper are great. The rewards are equally as great. Because the maps are larger and more spacious than COD you have a big advantage in seeing the enemy at distance. For all the excellent players you will face, shooting them with a scope while you are only a glint of sunlight in their iron scope is a massive advantage.

The range of tactics spread across all the other classes, will you be a pure assault class that can resupply your teammate’s ammo, will you be a medic who can heal or will you be an engineer who can take down enemy vehicles. The choices are familiar to anyone who has played a battlefield game, yet here because of the setting and the somber tone of the campaign it feels important. You are less likely to charge headfirst into the enemy. Every death you suffer feels like the individual death of a soldier. In matches where a bad round sees you dying 20 times, this can be quite depressing.

The different match types all compliment each other well. Conquest is the default choice and leads to various choke points on the map. Position yourself correctly and with a bit of luck, the kills and points will start rolling in. Team deathmatch is a frantic fight for survival where your spawn choice is every bit as important as your twitch shooting. Rush is not as prominent is it was in the glory days of Bad Company, yet is every bit as compelling and finally the new mode Operations. In this mode, matches can last up to an hour with matches taking place over various maps all the while seeing the previous map in the horizon. You can lose one map yet rally and recover on others. If you have the uninterrupted time to play this mode it can be the most rewarding by far. in fact, this is a microcosm of the game in general.

If you have the time to devote Battlefield One will be the only shooter you need this year. It has a token excellent campaign and the deepest most enthralling multiplayer matches available on the console to date.

Get it here Battlefield 1 (PS4)

WWE2K17 NXT Edition Review – Less Glitches, No Showcase, More focused and Easier But Still Pales In Comparison To N64 Classics

In an effort to get PSVR Move controllers, I traded in my PSVITA. With the resulting money, I had intended to get myself some move controllers. Alas, they were out of stock leaving the credit burning a hole in my pocket. Enter the NXT Edition of WWE2K17. For a huge wrestling fan like myself, the outcome was obvious.

Unlike the previous batch of WWE games, there is no showcase this year. To some, this may be a major distraction and I must admit after touting Goldberg as the pre- order bonus, I was expecting a go at recreating the famous WCW streak. This year with no showcase you get something else. Focus.

In previous years my time was divided between Career mode and Showcase mode. The Austin Showcase in last year’s game took a good ten hours to complete properly and If you were splitting the time between this and the never-ending slog of the career mode you never really appreciated the best of either of them.  With no showcase, the single player options are divided into your career and the sandbox mode, WWE Universe.

Beginning with the career mode, this year’s has a heavy focus on the phenomenally successful NXT Brand. Having attended an event this year, I can testify that having the chance to immerse yourself in the NXT universe is something jaded thirty-something wrestling fans like myself should jump at. Because the game starts you there more obviously than last year, the career mode stops feeling like a grind and starts feeling like you are a superstar in the middle of a big push by the company. The game starts with you at ringside watching a title victory by Finn Bálor (Fergal Devitt). The camera cuts to the side and shows your created wrestler standing with two other young hopefuls. After this, you begin training in the performance center before starting the road to success.

With the credits the game gives you this year, it would be all too easy to create a superstar straight off the bat. I made the mistake of using the money to unlock Bret Hart, Ultimate warrior, and Big Van Vader before starting. Last year’s game had two separate currencies at play but this year they have been combined into one allowing you to earn them in every game mode you play in. In the ring itself, you will notice a number of improvements. The character models move more slowly and feel more solid. Punches, Kicks, and collisions between the wrestlers still have the ability to cause the odd amusing glitch and a quick check on youtube will find plenty of examples of funny ones. Despite this the overall feel and presentation are exceptional. The matches themselves are still reversal heavy but we are moving close to the holy grail of the N64 wrestling games like WWE No Mercy and WCW vs NWO Revenge where the whole ring was one big toy set. You could literally do anything you could think off with those games and in WWE 2K17 we are closer than ever to having a real sandbox.

What ruins the sandbox feel slightly is the actual competition from the computer. In the old N64 games you could beat the opponent into a state of ragdoll like submission. After this, they were free to set up for high spots like diving off the cell or off the ladder through a ringside table. In the more recent WWE games, the computer controlled characters never seem to be beaten. While this is a perfect reflection of the actual WWE, it doesn’t lend itself to as good a gaming experience. This could be a choice issue but I believe it is why the old games are so fondly remembered. Despite this, the matches are far more winnable this year. Last year despite putting hours into the game, my character was never strong enough to win anything except the NXT title. This year after the few hours I have had with the game, I feel confident enough to go into any match thinking I can win. The horrible submission mini-game can now be turned off back to a more sensible button mashing variety meaning no more games lost the first time the opponent puts you in a submission hold. Backstage brawls and in ring Promos have been added to varying degrees of success. The backstage brawls feel like the old PS Smackdown games. You can go into different rooms, even Triple H’s office and brawl with any item you find back there. This was a feature that was sorely missed in previous games and will lead to many happy scenarios as you play. Promos are a different matter. Because they are not actually spoken and are text choices they take you completely out of the immersion and just end up being quite tedious. If you are an avid wrestling fan you will know exactly what the wrestler should be saying yet when the options appear in a Dragon Age style, none of them are appropriate. This means it degenerates into a guessing game depending on whether you are heel or face. It is a nice idea but unfortunately needs a lot more work.

The WWE Universe option is still here and as comprehensive as ever. Unfortunately, despite trying to play this in previous editions, I have never really been able to get to grips with it. I like the Idea of being GM of the company and picking all the matches for each show and PPV. It all sounds good with picking the correct champions picking the perfect arenas and so on but the problem for me is the lack of feedback. If you have to fill a match card then decide to play the matches ten there should be some high score or goal to head towards. It should be something like Football Manager where you are still trying to beat the computer. Here it feels like a big collection of wrestling action figures to play with but only after you spend a fiddly amount of time making sure the ring and lighting are correct. Amazing for some, but tiresome for me with no end goal.

The NXT edition comes with a nice Finn Bálor figure, a Topps special edition trading card and a signed print from Shinsuke Nakamura. There is also an XP boost for staying longer in NXT. In all an improvement on the last editions but still missing the gamification of the old N64 days. It’s almost too realistic to be completely fun, just like the current WWE product.

Mafia 3 – Shotguns, Gators and Racism

Mafia 3 has landed at a perfect time. With a new GTA not even on the horizon and other open-world games not delivering, Mafia 3 is here to soak up the sales. The game itself is a good distraction from the buzz of PSVR and other distractions. It is a single-player, serious, authentic adventure that hooks you from minute one.

The first thing you will notice about the game are the excellent cutscenes and voice acting. Set in a faux New Orleans in 1968, You play Lincoln Clay. Just back from Nam and helping out with the adopted family business. Soon after this things take a turn for the worse leaving you at your lowest point and having to rebuild on a revenge mission. The graphics have a few quirks but immediately you are invested in the story and characters. The simple investment in the story fuels your progress when the missions become a bit cookie-cutter.

The basic premise of the game involves you taking out various criminal empires, each more complex than the last. It is done in a very sensible if methodical fashion. For example, taking out the local prostitution ring involves weakening their income, this is done by freeing girls that have been kept captured and ‘strung-out’ on heroin and by finding and killing local pimps. When you have weakened the ring enough the end-game mission is available and you go in to kill the local leader. Repeat this and you get an area control level, usually set somewhere interesting. The first is at an abandoned funfair. These levels can be tackled anyway you like but pleasingly they all involve the need to kill most of the rival gang. After experiences in other games that punish you for using all the weapons at your disposal, it is nice that Mafia 3 lets you loose to cause carnage.

Speaking of weapons, a special mention has to be made of the shotgun. Not since the Getaway series of games has the act of shooting someone felt so realistic. The only thing that comes to mind is the classic Steve McQueen film Bullitt (coincidentally also set in 1968). The scene in particular when the witness is ambushed in the safehouse. The weapon of choice there is a shotgun and the way it hits is so brutally realistic that it has stuck with me ever since. The gun doesn’t make an overpowering noise but the ragdoll reaction of the victim and the force they are blown onto the bed with is extremely harrowing. In Mafia 3, the result is exactly the same. You hide behind a piece of scenery and wait for an enemy. Then you unload the full shotgun blast into them. The results are horribly realistic without being overly gruesome. Body parts remain intact but blood stains and realistic rag-doll physics make the experience satisfying and also thought-provoking.

In the Getaway, I actually felt repulsed at shooting the police officers because of the realistic bloodstains on the clothes. Mafia 3’s story helps with this in some regard as the other criminals you are killing have already been portrayed as evil. There is also the option of sparing and recruiting some of them. A lesser version of Bioshock’s little sisters if you will. The instant reward of killing an enemy or the long-term gain of recruiting them. Luckily the fire in you as the player due to the storyline makes gaining revenge very satisfying.

There are other elements that need to be looked at when considering buying this game. The collectible Playboy magazines seem more graphic and more plentiful than before. They are definitely better than your usual collectible but the game won’t win any female fans because of them. There are also car magazines and adult paintings to discover. If the violence and subject matter weren’t enough then the collectables definitely make this an 18 certificate game.

Racism is also a fundamental aspect of the game. The character you play is black and the game wastes no opportunity in reminding you. The ‘n’ word is used liberally by AI characters and it really helps to put you in the time period of the game. Despite this the overt racism is quite hard to listen sometimes. One of your associates even apologises before going into an undercover scenario where he will be using the word frequently himself. By including this scene the game shows you it is wrong but how many people will pick up on this nuance when they are just expecting another GTA clone? For despite being in the same genre this is very different from GTA. Mafia 3 will have little or no replay value once the main story is finished. The story is the main fuel and driving force in this game and when it is over I cannot see me holding onto the game despite the other excellent extras it offers.

The soundtrack is of particular excellence. Classic songs from the time are literally pouring out of the radio stations every time you get into a car. Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Creedance Clearwater Revival and many others have multiple songs on the playlist meaning that driving from one place to another is always a good musical experience. It is just as well as there are a few issues around the driving that grate a little. Maybe it comes from transitioning from Forza Horizon 3, but the driving engine in this game just feels unnatural. When you are driving and weaving through traffic all is well, however, try to take a sharp turn or come to an emergency stop and there is a noticeable delay. This is particularly noticeable when braking. The police in the game always seem extremely edgy and need no excuse to chase you meaning that when you are approaching stationary traffic and trying to brake you should leave extra space. Every time I try I squeeze the brakes and there is no reaction, then all of a sudden the brakes lock and you skid into the back of them alerting the psychopath police. Not great.

Luckily the braking engine is the only complaint I have with the game so far. I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone looking for an adult orientated single player experience. The only caveats with the game revolve around the male orientated collectables and driving engine. If you can get over these then Mafia 3 will be a rich and rewarding story-driven experience. Where else can you feed enemies at will to gators? Only in New Bordeaux.

Mafia III (PS4)

Forza Horizon 3 – Customisation And Endless Miles For Your Bucket List

Forza Horizon and the sequel were amazing games. Taking the precision driving from the Forza series and placing it in an open world setting was always going to equal success. With Forza Horizon 3, the series may have hit its peak.

Starting off as most do with a flat out drive in a hypercar to the festival site. Horizon 3, put you in the position of the festival organiser. In reality, this gives a much-needed context to the endless racing, drifting, and bucket lists found in the previous games. You have to assemble a team of drivers and go around attracting fans to join the festival by doing increasingly difficult and dangerous stunts. After so many fans are gained you get the chance to expand the festival or open a new location on the massive map. Compared to previous games this added focus really grips you and stops your attention drifting to the detriment of the game. In previous games in the role of just a driver, you would very quickly open up the whole map and then be left to check things off a list. While there is still this feel in Horizon 3, the need to hit a certain level before being able to operate out of a new base, makes you appreciate the design of the area you are in and focus on completing one area at a time. Before long, you will find you have ticked off more than you ever could if your focus was spread all over the map.

This game is massive, each area features around two hours of races, bucket list challenges, speed traps, drift zones, boards to smash and head to head races. Even from this list, you get an idea of how dense the activities are in the game. There are now drift zones and street races available to add to the multitude of other races. All these will increase two-fold when you realise that all races and challenges are now customisable. You can now select the blueprint option and make your own version of each event you encounter. This can then be published online to your ever present list of friends. Despite being offline, the drivatar system populates the game with people from your friend list. They then can be added to your driver team and earn you bonus points. The constant messages that appear on your hud with how your friends have done in races add the asynchronous competition, that is sorely lacking from many games. The messages pop up every time you log in, showing how many races your drivatar has done and how many credits they have earned. In all, it feels like a massive package that you will never reach the end of. The only blemish is the barn finds. These seem unnecessarily complex and really disrupt the constant flow of the game. The vehicles revealed from them as well are usually disappointing when compared to the other vehicles already available. Why spend 20 minutes looking for the needle in a haystack only to be presented with a van instead of a vintage Ferarri? They really disrupt what Forza does best. There is a technique however that eases this a bit. A new drone mode allows you to take control of a drone to quickly sweep the area. Luckily this cuts down some of the random searchings. If only the game made this a bit clearer rather than having to use your ingenuity or common sense.

All this praise is before you get into the real gameplay. Forza always had the real feel of the tyres on the road. This game is no different. Every aspect of your car can be tweaked, the wheels, body kit, paint jobs and decals are the easy part supplemented by other people’s designs in the auction house but under the hood is where the real gearheads will find themselves. Thankfully for the uninitiated, there is an auto upgrade function that allows you to upgrade any car to the class you want it to be in. There are also drift specific set ups and more meaning that your favourite shape of the car can compete with the supercars of the world no matter what its actual power is. The wheel to wheel racing is not as ferocious as in other games and the main challenge is getting the car around the track. The game does a good job of auto adjusting the difficulty as you go. Sometimes it suggests upping or lowering the challenge as you go. Win a few races in a row and they will ask you to up it for more XP. Despite this, there is no pressure or no penalty for staying where you feel comfortable. Like the rest of the game, this is only an easy going suggestion as you cruise around Austrailia.

The best compliment to this game I can give is how it makes you feel. The combination of the music and the flow of the game from one event to another makes you feel happy. There is a definite feeling of youthful abandonment missing in many games. There seems no pressure to win races or even discover things, there is just a friendly voice telling you to head in one of a couple of directions. Because you aren’t being denied anything you just seem to lose hours after hours in the game. Add in the integration with groove music and the built-in tracks, this makes Horizon 3 one of the most relaxing and joyful experiences ut there. You just seem to spend so much time at full throttle, weaving your way through the sparse amounts of traffic only being interrupted when you run out of ability and wipe out. Thankfully the rewind feature is less intrusive in this game than other track based racers. in track based racers you feel any use of rewind is cheating. Here it is more like a way to prolong the flow and mood of the game. Why should a simple altercation with a tree at 170 mph ruin your day?

Now available
Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One)

PES 2017 Gameplay Review – Worship At The Ultimate Altar Again

When I review any football game, I am immediately reminded of my favourite advertising phrase. ‘If football is your only religion, worship at the ultimate altar.’ That was for PES 2 on the PS2. Fifteen years later and the king has returned. PES 2017 is as close to real football as it is possible to get.

Following on from the great foundations of last year’s game, PES 2017 refines the on-pitch experience to unbelievable levels of detail. In my short time with the demo and retail copy of the game, no two matches have been the same. No two goals have been the same and not even two passes have been the same. The play is so finely balanced, that you can go a whole half, dominating possession, probing for an opening in the opponents defence only to realise you haven’t created any chances. You face exactly the same problems real football teams and coaches face. You have to change up your tactics and style of play because if you don’t you will be punished. Here is a case study of my first match.

The first example most people will notice is the step up in opposition defending and tactics. While waiting for the option file from pesworld, I fired up the licensed Asian Champions League. Not having a great knowledge of it I picked Guangzhou Evergrande, as I have a jacket of theirs. I was pleased to see Jackson Martinez and Paulinho in the team and felt fairly confident. Sure enough, I started the game in the standard formation with Martinez up top on his own. The first few attacks went well with a ball played in from the wing for him to hold up and either turn or lay off building the attack. After a couple of near misses from crosses, I noticed the opposition intercepting the ball a lot more. Taking a step back, I realised the opposition A.I. had worked out my tactics and were now actively playing against them. This completely changes the game. I had to then work the ball through the wings and try to hit Martinez in the middle. Again initial success before that route was shut down as well. This adaptive intelligence, Means you have to vary your tactics like a real match. Unfortunately, I was soon caught on the counter as a long-range strike was excellently saved by my keeper before being tucked away by the opposing striker. It was frustrating but completely realistic. As I pushed forward, I was caught again. A ball down the wing, a missed rash tackle and they tucked it away. Throwing everything forward I bundled in a scrappy goal and then noticed the opposition sitting deeper. I tried and tried but despite a few dangerous crosses, they held firm. I had lost my first game and been taught a severe lesson. PES 2017 plays to win.

Looking deeper into the aspects of PES 2017 that have improved, shows how much of an understanding the development team has of the sport. Despite the many great advances the FIFA team made throughout the last generation, they always seemed to get the percentages wrong. IF you had an easy chance you were prone to miss more often than not. You could hit the post after a sweeping move then hit it again on the rebound. You knew that the opponent would get one more chance at the end of matches and if you got one you knew it would likely be a close miss again. It felt artificial and unnecessarily dramatic. PES has long employed such scripting to better effect especially in the Master League. This worked in the context of that game mode, but could still seem cheap if your keeper spilled a ball from a very weak shot. In PES 2017 goalkeepers have received a major upgrade. If you hit a long range shot now the opposition keeper will try and get anything behind it and keep it out of the net. Sometimes these saves look a bit clumsy, but most importantly they are saves. A long range shot that dips in front of a keeper should have them diving low and getting something on it which could go anywhere. The random nature of rebounds means there isn’t the same feeling of cheapness when one eventually lands in the wrong place.

Referees, long the problem of PES games, have received a major overhaul. They now give free kicks with every bad tackle, putting unfair pressure on an opponent works the same so there is no more matching the opponents pace and simply leaning into their run to trip them. The decisions are far more realistic if still a little lenient when you really take down an opposition striker.

Shots on goal now feel more powerful and lethal than ever, especially if you are running onto a rolling ball. Hitting the ball first time from out wide at a moving ball will create the necessary whipping effect of sending it towards the net or into the penalty area, it is all about looking at the body shape of your player and the ball. Line up for a shot poorly and you will hit a poor shot. Come onto it at speed with the right power and you should be set for something special. The same goes for crosses. Beat the fullback and you should have time for a better cross. Gone are the loopy crosses that hung in the air for your striker to easily nod in. Even the floated crosses now realistically bounce off your striker or the defenders head. A lofted through ball, that reaches your striker at head height can no longer be headed like a bullet past the keeper. Using realistic physics and momentum, your headers can only ‘help the ball on its way’. At first, the gamer in you will feel like a power has been taken away but soon the football fan will appreciate the realism. It could be the mantra for this game.

In conclusion PES 2017 is the best football game ever made. The improvements to the physics engine, in collisions, ball movement, and rebounds make every game a unique and enjoyable experience. There really is nothing else to say, except this is real football. A further review of the game modes, like Master League, My Club and Be A Legend will follow when suitable time has been spent with them. Until then soak in the beautiful game that is PES 2017.

You can get it here
PES 2017 (PS4)

WWE Backlash 2016 -Smackdown Puts The House In Order

The first brand-exclusive PPV of the new era delivered a number of crowd-pleasing moments. It delivered with a shorter more focused event that the bloated mess that was Summerslam 2016. Here are the main points.

Ambrose VS AJ Styles at Backlash 2016
Dean Ambrose with an Elbow into the crowd

1 AJ Styles is on top of the mountain -Dean Ambrose’s title reign has been underwhelming, to say the least. It started with such promise yet a lacklustre display in a mini-feud with Dolph Ziggler completely killed any momentum he may have been able to build. His whole Lunatic Fringe persona was once fresh and is now lost. The time was right for the WWE to pull the trigger on the AJ era and they did so with aplomb. AJ and Ambrose put on a very high-quality match. Both pulled off a number of high spots and new moves, yet still, Ambrose looked lazy. I wonder whether it is his fault or not? My own view is that Ambrose should have assumed the mantle of ‘The Vigilante’ from Sting, instead of his Mick Foley lite approach with the same finisher. Imagine Ambrose just stalking the dressing room with a bat dealing out his brand of justice? It would suit the character and the persona. The crazy, goofy character just doesn’t work for a supposed lunatic and it will be interesting to see where he goes. By contrast, AJ Styles must be Vince McMahon’s dream. He works incredibly hard with everyone he is in with and makes both wrestlers look better. last night there were a few spots performed on him by Ambrose that others would have flinched at. He took the bumps and now he is in charge. His heel persona is dialled in and now he is ready for a lengthy championship run. Smackdown Live now has a dependable A-List champion respected by the independent wrestling circuit and now respected by the higher reaches of the WWE. The possibilities for him are endless as long as the people paired with him step up to the plate. For once the right champion at the right time.

Becky Lynch After The Match
Becky Lynch after winning the Smackdown Women’s Title at Backlash 2016

2 Becky Lynch gets her deserved gold – The last of the ‘Four Horsewomen’ to taste gold, Becky is a proper wrestler. The difference in her style and the ‘Divas’ era is immeasurable. Last night she hit Carmella with 3 T-Bone suplexes that were brutal and visceral. This is such a marked contrast to the days when a slap could win a women’s match. Now separated from the Charlotte, Sascha, Bayley triumvirate on RAW, Becky will have to hold up the role of the true wrestler among the remnants of the Total Divas brigade on Smackdown. When eliminated last night Nikki Bella, had a face on her that would have killed and it was far from a work. Becky got a resounding pop from the crowd as she made Carmella Tap then went mental in the ring with the belt. The conveyance of emotion is what wrestling is all about at this level and Becky gets it across better than most. The only problems on the horizon are the people she will have to face. Eva Marie and Nikki Bella are the two most dangerous opponents she can have right now. Both are highly favoured by creative and any misstep in Becky’s reign a la Ambrose above will have them putting the strap on someone far less talented in the ring. it is up to her now to make the most of this opportunity and carry this division.

3 The Usos show us what could have been with Roman Reigns – What an image change! Gone is the stupid face paint and dance at the start. In now is the angry Samoans. Wow. imagine if Roman Reigns was allowed to turn heel in the same way. The Usos are now right back in the picture for the most exciting tag team. They have a point. They are like a new Samoan swat team and will be gunning for the belts at every opportunity. The fact they lost to Slater and Rhyno means nothing as they will surely feud with the excellent American Alpha. WWE won’t keep the belts on two essentially singles stars when there are a bunch of good teams beneath them. The new brutal Usos have the potential to destroy the division and reach heights many thought they were incapable of. Now maybe try this with Roman Reigns.

Bonus – CM Punk CM Punk had his long-awaited debut in UFC at the weekend and to say it didn’t go well is an understatement. Punk was great in the WWE but the manner in which he left stops him being a true legend to me. Other wrestlers had disagreements but cemented their legacy. Punk did come across as a whiner. An amazing talent in the ring and equally a superstar on the mike. Punk should still be in the WWE. Instead, he became annoyed at the schedule and with Triple H. Not being privy to the meetings it will always be one word against another. So came his reinvention in the UFC. Yet it wasn’t really. He came out to his same theme music and still called himself CM Punk. He deserves the utmost respect for stepping into the octagon like everyone does but seriously? After two years of training, you run straight at your opponent within the first few seconds. Take a few seconds, assess, try to stay on your feet. Instead, Mickey Gall gobbled him up and made an example of him. I really wanted Punk to perform better so that wrestlers would get more respect. Unfortunately, Brock Lesnar remains the one crossover star.

Deus Ex Mankind Divided – Air Vents, Choices And Loading Times

Deus Ex Human Revolution was a triumphant return for a series long forgotten. When released on the previous generation of consoles, the Blade Runner stylings, and introduction, of multiple pathways through the levels was lauded. Unfortunately, the original version had a number of boss fights developed separately from the rest of the game that was more action based and a complete departure. A later special edition was released that amended these but the memory of them stuck. Now almost five years later Deus Ex is back on current consoles.

Before I get into the inner workings of the game I need to make it clear that this is a very good game and well worth a try especially if you liked the original. Unfortunately, there is a multitude of problems, that will stop this game getting widespread user approval. It is almost as if there is a set template for Deus Ex, that they are scared to deviate from. Each scenario is set up in the same way. There is a room or area that is restricted to the player, they need to access the room and so a variety of options become available. Usually, there are three options.

  1. Use your enhancements and go in all guns blazing, killing everyone, brutally. The shooting mechanics in the game are competent and there is a variety of weapons that can be upgraded and modified to suit your play style. Silencers can be added as can scopes and upgraded magazines. The weapon customization is nicely done using crafting material found around the world. If guns are your thing, you can get EMP ammo, armour piercing, tranquillizer rounds and standard ammo. All these let you tackle any situation. Add this to, stealth augmentations to effect active camo, arm blades to deal damage in close quarters and hard, shell armour that stops any enemy damage.
  2. Stealth using Augmentations and the environment. This really can be simplified to ‘find the correct air vent’. Despite all the pretences, the stealthy approach in Deus Ex almost always comes down to finding the most suitable air vent to sneak through. You may have to travel a few buildings away or climb a roof or two firstly, but in the end, there will be a hidden air vent that puts you right into the room you have to be in. As the game goes on there are hazards like gas, laser traps and more guarding the vents, but these can all be circumvented by your choice of augmentations. You can get an augmentation to give you improved lungs, that filter out the poison gas in some areas, leaving you to casually walk through. Basically, if you are ever stuck in Deus Ex, flick on your smart vision and look for a vent or ventilation shaft. Trace it back and there you go the sneaky way in. As satisfying as it is to do this, there is always a disconnect in your mind, that it is too easy or unrealistic. Unfortunately, it has a jarring effect on the rest of the game. As immersive as it is, the air vent issue will always remind you, you are playing a game.
  3. The hacking way. This is Deus Ex at it’s finest. You play the hacking mini game and turn machines, turrets, cameras and more against the people using them on you. This extends much further into the game. You hack a locked door in an apartment block to allow you to get in. You find the laptop of the owner, you hack it and find an email from their work with the passwords or the location of a terminal inside their office. You walk down to the office and wait until no one is looking. Then you hack their office either with your skill or the password previously obtained and get into the office. You steal what you need and after disabling the security cameras and turrets, you waltz out with leaving everyone unaware of what has happened. These are the moments in Deus Ex that feel unique and special.

These are the three main approaches to Deus Ex and unfortunately, they are exactly the same as they were in the previous game. No matter how involving the story or characters are the actual meat on the bones of the game is basically the same as the old games. This is hardly a criticism as the previous games were excellent, yet it still feels disappointing when playing. The game starts with you having a good compliment of augmentations before a story element means you have to reset all your internal powers. After this, it is a matter of earning XP to upgrade yourself as fully as you feel the need to. To do this most effectively, you should really do all the side missions available. They never seem out of place and are always interesting. Early ones include shutting down a guerilla news organisation either by force or by doing them favours and hoping there is no double cross. Unlike other games, the side-missions don’t feel like a distraction from the main story. There are dialogue choices and logic, that mean Adam Jensen can take a break from the main quest to sort this other pressing issue. Compare this to Fallout 4. In that game, your overarching quest is to find your son. Yet as many have pointed out the settlement building and multitude of other quests are unrealistic as your motivation would not be taken away from the chasing of your son.

Despite all the good things that this game does there is still a horrible feeling that there should have been more innovation. Maybe have fewer enemies in the areas so that you can experiment more with the techniques. The most enjoyment is to be found by combining the three main ways above. Unfortunately like another game from last generation Dishonoured. Dishonoured gave you a wonderful toolbox of tricks and a great setting then punished you unless you took the stealthy approach. Deus Ex doesn’t so much punish you as make stealth the easiest option. After all, why fight your way through an army when an air vent takes you straight to the end?

 

Suicide Squad Review – Better Than Expected Despite The Joker

I finally relented and saw Suicide Squad. Despite going in with the lowest of expectations after Batman Vs Superman I was pleasantly surprised to see a competent film, much better than recent DC offerings. Unfortunately, Jared Leto’s Joker character is an annoyance that the film cannot get around.

As with all DC films in recent years’, there is a pervading sense of darkness throughout the film. Women are treated badly and the main characters are so unlikeable that you don’t care what happens to them. To counter this Suicide Squad focusses on two likeable main characters. Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Both are excellent characters for a film of this nature but even they are not without faults.

The story is a simple retelling of The Dirty Dozen. A group of criminals is offered the chance to improve their situation by taking on a suicide mission that no one else would do. The film begins with a quick background characterisation of the individuals in question. Unfortunately, the characterisation focusses only on Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Deadshot is the typical assassin who never misses. He does everything so his daughter can have a better life and never kills women or children. We get a few scenes showing Smith’s prowess with weapons before he is captured by Batman. In order to keep his character strong, he is shown getting the  better of Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight before his daughter stops him killing Batman. This leads to his imprisonment and recruitment into the Suicide Squad. Smith plays the character very straight. There is no deviation from the fact that he is an honourable criminal as we are reminded about it at every opportunity. Despite the good performance from Smith the character of Deadshot is one we have seen a million times on film. From Leon to Wanted. He doesn’t add anything to the cookie-cutter formula of the honourable assassin.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is a much better character and in fact, carries the film. The origin story of Dr. Quinzel is shown as she interacts with the Joker before becoming infatuated with him. Robbie plays the character for laughs and sex-appeal but also adds a colder darker side that shows how mistreated she has been by the Joker. He abuses her and mentally tortures her making her the female version of him. Unlike the Joker, deep down there is a schizophrenic side to her that longs for a normal life. If she had not become infatuated then maybe she would have the normal life she craved. Robbie fulfills her eye-candy aspect with a number of revealing outfits and one-liners. Despite this, she is fulfilling the character perfectly. There is no grey area with her criminality. She is a psychopath who will kill and maim without a moment’s hesitation. There is no fake honour as there is with Deadshot. Harley will hit you with a baseball bat and smile before blowing a kiss at your corpse.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Suicide Squad are so underdeveloped that I struggle to remember their names. Killer Croc is the stereotypical muscle of the group and Diablo is the psychopath who doesn’t want to unleash his true power. All of them could be interesting if they had their origin stories fleshed out. Unfortunately, they don’t so we don’t care. Carla Delevigne’s Enchantress is a character suited for a more sophisticated film. The main antagonist in the film, she is the weirdest split personality/possessed character seen in recent years. With the utterance of ‘Enchantress’ Delevigne’s normal girl next door look is transformed into the Enchantress, that looks like she emerged from a swamp. She is a witch with more power than anyone, only kept in check as the CIA agent controlling the squad has her heart in a box. Her normal character is in love with the field agent in charge of the military operation Rick Flag. Again an underdeveloped stereotype of a character who adds nothing to the film other than to question Deadshot’s honour and do a bit of alpha male posturing. They are there to serve a purpose but unfortunately are not memorable and hopefully will be dropped for the inevitable sequel.

The question of a sequel brings us to the inevitable tumour in the movie. The Joker. Before I rip him apart, Jared Leto actually gets the mannerisms and characterization of the Joker spot on. In a more murderous, spiteful and abusive version of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Leto plays it well and close to comic books like The Killing Joke and Brian Azzarello’s Joker. Unfortunately all his fine acting work is undermined but the actual look of the Joker. It is horrendous and the one thing that these series of movies will never recover from. All the controversy that people have created since the original reveal of his ‘look’ is justified. He looks as threatening as Justin Bieber with green hair. There is no mystery about the character, no overt reference to his comedic nature and nothing to portray him as what he should be The Joker should look initially curious before he reveals his psychotic nature. Leto’s Joker puts everything out there on his own skinny body. The metal caps on his teeth, the tattoos, the smiling face tattoo on the back of his hand instead of being on his actual face all scream focus group to the viewer. This is a scattergun, brainstormed Joker look without any cohesion. The look is so horrible, that any moment he appears or is involved in the storyline, the image of a metal toothed, grinning, skinny moron appears in your head. It stops any pathos being built up in his horrible treatment of Harley. In fact, he is so bad that when you feel he may not appear for the rest of the film, you breathe a sigh of relief. The Joker should be a central character in any film he is in, yet in Suicide Squad he is memorable for all the wrong reasons. He is only in the film for around seven minutes yet even this outstays his welcome. He looks like a focus group attempt at making the Joker seem ‘gangsta’. You half expect him to say ‘bitch’ at the end of every phrase like Jesse in Breaking Bad.

If you can get past the aberration that is The Joker, Suicide Squad easily is the best of the DC movies so far. It didn’t have much to beat, but it is enjoyable enough to sit through and throws up at least Harley Quinn as an engaging character.

Hitman 2016 – Assassination By Numbers

After receiving the excellent collector’s edition of this game I have been lucky enough to get an extended playtime with it. It is the perfect Hitman game for me, however, purists may be very annoyed with the episodic nature and high level of hand-holding throughout.

To begin with, I am only picking this game up a few months after release, so the episodic nature doesn’t affect me as much as someone buying at release. If I had picked up this game on release day, I would have been severely ticked off at having to wait for months to get more levels. However, the game is actually designed for a reason.

If you have ever played Hitman before, you will be instantly at home with the levels available. You begin with a few training missions before heading off to a number of locations released as episodic packs. The nature of this allows you to focus a lot of time on individual levels, rather than simply killing the targets and moving on to the next. Something the previous game, Hitman Absolution was guilty off. It played too much like a linear, level driven game, akin to a Splinter Cell. Hitman is much more focussed on the environment than the kill. Each level is a well-constructed playground, built to let you live out your dreams of being a professional hitman. Let’s take the small Italian village of Sapienza for a start. You begin sitting reading a newspaper as the hustle and bustle of the world goes by. When you are ready you can take a stroll around the cobbled back streets or check into one of the coffee shops dotted around the town.  A simple stroll through the ancient city gates shows a broken down florists van that has been involved in an accident with a cyclist. Here is where the new Hitman game hand-holds you a bit too much.

You are immediately alerted by an icon on your hud than an opportunity is revealing itself. If you sit on the bench and eavesdrop on the van driver’s conversation you find out that he was heading to deliver a bouquet of flowers to you target for this mission. In previous games, you may have been given this information in a briefing, to begin with, or had to assume this yourself. In this Hitman, you immediately have the ability to track the opportunity. After this, it is a simple case of following the signs and trying not to be careless. There is still scope to do things the way you wish but when the opportunities are laid out so invitingly, why would you bother?

Instead of struggling, I was able to find a doctor who was due to meet the target, dress up as a waiter, poison his coffee, follow him to the toilet, assume his identity, stroll into the mansion and smother the target as they were telling me their mental issues. No game has the ability to make you feel so powerful. You literally feel like the character you should. The only nagging issue is the hand-holding. It just feels too easy to succeed with a complicated plan. The now obligatory ‘hitman sense’ makes it even easier. In the older games, you could sit for hours trying to work out a complicated strategy, to just get you into position to take a shot. Now the difficulty lies in picking one of the multitudes of scripted options to follow. It is far from linear but just as far from free will.

Each level has a mastery score encouraging you to try out every way of killing the target. Due to the episodic nature, you may have to make do with a few locations for a few months. This means you can really begin to experiment with the physics, A.I., and mechanics. Do you break into the roof space of a building and drop a propane flask down the chimney onto the lit fire or do you tamper with an electrical socket before turning on a hose? These ingenious choices are there to be found outside the linear ‘oppotunity’ paths. The game really has a short meaningless story to tie together some beautiful sandbox levels.

Before you decide this game isn’t for you because of this, take another minute to change your approach to the game.  By showing the challenges available and the ways to kill the targets the developers have basically turned Hitman into a round of golf. You approach the hole and depending on the conditions or even your mood on the day take a different approach. If something goes wrong the hole will play completely differently from day to day. Such is the case with a level in Hitman. There are always the ‘cookie-cutter’ ways to kill people, but look a little harder and there are very inventive ways that might get you less XP and points, but a lot of satisfaction. You can see an assassination challenge to kill someone with an antique cannon, yet to date have not found said cannon, here lies the hook of the game. The enjoyment all depends on how sociopathic you want to be.

If you enjoy the Hitman games, there is already a lurking sociopath within you somewhere. The contracts section, expanded from Absolution lets you take this to the next level. Pick a computer-controlled character in the level and set the rules. Then make sure it is possible by completing it yourself before uploading it to the community. It’s the Mario Maker for sociopaths everywhere. While there were a few early server issues and disconnects, this coupled with the difficult elusive target mode adds greater length to the overall package. The most recent target was Hollywood actor Gary Busey, he was running about in Sapienza and unfortunately, I failed to kill him. That’s it, once you fail they are gone forever.

With the community creations and additions coming for the game, I have no problem recommending it to others. My only concern is the very slight storyline, which shares a common thread with the film Wanted and the overly helpful and straightforward main path through the level. Despite this, there is nothing like the feeling of walking to the exit of a level knowing that chaos is about to descend behind you. This is what it feels like to be Agent 47 and because it gets this feeling right it is one of the best experiences on offer this year.

You can buy the first location as a taster here

Hitman: Intro Pack [Xbox One – Download Code]

Pokémon Go -How To Play Pokémon Go As An Adult

Today Pokémon Go finally arrived in Europe. For days we have been eagerly awaiting our chance to try the latest game in a series that many of us had grown out of. Be prepared, this mobile, augmented reality game is the gateway drug back into the weird and wonderful world of Pokémon.

Whether you were an expert back in the day with Pokémon red,blue or yellow or were just a fan of Ash and Team Rocket in the animated series, gamers of a certain age will have been exposed to the craze more than once. I played them when younger and have tried to get back into the more recent versions. Unfortunately, there are always factors that detract from the pure experience of collecting the pocket monsters and battling with them. From early indications, the mobile app Pokémon Go gets closer to the pure experience than ever.

Being constantly in your pocket on your phone, Pokémon Go, is with you always. Turning it on greets you with a sat nav type view of your surroundings. There are pictures of what Pokémon are nearby and a footprint symbol to show how many metres they are away from you. You simply walk to find more and then try to catch them in an augmented reality minigame akin to paper toss. You see the Pokémon in your won world through the camera and then throw the Pokéball to try and catch them, it is as simple as that. At this stage there is no need to worry about breeding, evolving training or even battling, the main hook of the game is what it should be. Gotta catch em all!

There are deeper elements for those who want them. You can delve into the dark world of in-app purchases to earn in-game currency to train and evolve your creatures. The other way to get them is to walk around your local area and look for Pokéstops where you can refuel your Pokéballs and more. The name of the game is getting out and about. Unless you are lucky enough or unlucky enough to have your house chosen as a Pokéstop or gym. In fact, there are reports of real world crime happening because of the nature of the game. Muggers have been waiting where people gather to steal their possessions. It is sad but also an indication of how quickly this game has become a cultural phenomenon. Every company and social media executive in the world is finding a way to #Pokémongo into their posts. But should you still be playing what is essentially a child’s game?

The answer is yes.

Even if this hadn’t been Pokémon it would have been essential. It is the best use so far of augmented reality and a real different way of playing games. It perfectly taps into the quick look at your phone that is so addictive to us all. Travel to a new place and suddenly you think the best thing to do is pull out the phone and see if there are any Pokémon about. You could really put the effort in and train them up to become the master of your local gym, but in reality, most people will have lost interest before that. It will be much better to just walk around nd enjoy the small time commitment needed each day to get a few more creatures on your way to 230. If like me you are an adult in age if not in mind, you will enjoy this small quest more than spending hours and hours learning the tactics and evolutions of all the Pokémon. The option is there for people who want to do it, for the rest of us there is the joy of being up to date with the latest fad and also knowing that you will never become completely addicted to it.

So how do we play as an adult?

Do not walk around holding your phone out – people will know you are playing. Take sly glances down to maintain the illusion of maturity

Do not scream when you see your favourite Pokémon in the wild. 

While driving don’t slam on the brakes if you receive a wild Pokémon nearby notification. It isn’t a valid excuse for your insurance.

Don’t get upset if younger people are better than you. This happens in all games.

Don’t hunt for Pokémon in inappropriate places. Opposite sex bathrooms etc.

Obviously, there are some drawbacks. The game uses your GPS, so is a severe drain on your battery life. There is a battery saver mode but how effective this is,depends on how much you play.

It is a brave step for Nintendo to get involved in a world that traditionally they have shunned. However like the Wii and Gameboy, they look to have struck it lucky at the first attempt. If only they were as good at making consoles as they are in reinventing ways to play their games. Then we would be happy.

Messy Movies – Batman Vs Superman Dawn Of Justice

Being a huge Batman fan, I put off seeing this until recently. I had heard it wasn’t great But nothing could have prepared me. It is possibly one of the worst affronts to both Batman and Superman and is very definitely a messy movie.

Directed by Zack Snyder, there should have been hope. He was able to faithfully recreate the world of 300 and Watchmen to great effect. In fact, his adaptation of Watchmen failed at the box office due to how faithful he was to the source material. With this in mind, Batman vs Superman or DOJ from hereon should have been brilliant. It should have taken the elements given by The Dark Knight Returns and ran with them. He could have taken the elements of the rivalry between the superheroes and let it build into a believable conflict. Instead, we got something very different.

Before we delve into the horrors on screen we should mention some positives. Ben Affleck manages to portray a very realistic Batman. A Batman who has been fighting crime for two decades and is for all intents and purposes, an asshole. A grizzled, vengeful, sadistic Batman who will never get over the death of his parents. Affleck plays him as you should. He has clearly looked at the source material and gets the character. What he is then asked to do by Snyder is another matter.

One of the most controversial scenes in the film is a perfect example. Affleck plays a future Batman who is fighting as a rebel against a world ruled by Superman. He is trying to buy kryptonite from a weapons dealer but gets intercepted by Superman’s forces. Not being as big a Superman fan, I cannot reference the work this comes from, but it is the one sequence in the film that makes me wonder what could have been if Snyder had run with it more. It takes place in a well-lit desert, there is a genuine shock seeing Batman use a gun, but soon you realise this shows the desperate measures forced upon him. Unfortunately, Snyder uses this as a dream sequence, poorly dropped in and confusing to the viewer. It is only at the end when we see a brief appearance of The Flash, that we realise it was a dream or vision. If only this intrigue had been in the rest of the film.

Jesse Eisenberg also does a decent job of portraying a maniacal Lex Luthor. Unfortunately, his portrayal will always be placed against other villains in films, meaning he will come up against Heath Ledger’s Joker. Eisenberg’s story arc against Senator Finch is another more interesting aside, with a huge payoff. Unfortunately again it is treated very much as a secondary story as we are pummelled into submission by the main plot. And what a pummelling we get.

Snyder seems unable to  have any scenes in his movies with natural light. The amount of filter and horribly out of place CGI even in outdoor scenes is depressing. In 300, the hyper-realism fitted perfectly. Watchmen, to a certain extent, began to suffer from Snydervision. The first Snyder Superman film and this one, are completely ruined by unrealistic visions. Superman is a man who wears a blue suit and a red cape emblazoned by a large yellow and red S. Yet in Snyders world it looks like a horrible grey. Superman is a beacon of light and hope in a world and his look should reflect this. Superman has no colour at all. It has been filtered beyond belief to a horribly depressing darkness. This isn’t Batman. Superman operates in broad daylight. He is colourful as an alien from another planet. Thigs like looking gritty should not even enter his psyche. But then again Henry Cavill as Superman is not allowed to have a psyche. He is as much a blunt object as the abomination Doomsday he fights at the end.

Cavill looks the part. He even speaks with the dumb other-worldly naivety that is needed. He should see the good in all people and be in a constant internal struggle to not use his powers in case he injures more people than he saves. The film starts very cleverly, referencing the destruction done to Metropolis by Superman’s fight with General Zod. It allows the audience through the eyes of Batman to see the collateral damage done by Superman without thought. It is that lack of thought that should be addressed in this film but is not. It is cast aside in favour of huge battles with Doomsday that make a point of being on a deserted piece of Gotham. In reality, the huge nuclear explosions from this fight would also have killed millions. Cavill should be torn in many directions. He has to be constantly at odds with his immense power, his love for a mortal woman and his duty to try to save everyone at all times. It should be a job of constantly keeping all the plates spinning as Lex Luthor tries to covertly take over. Luthor should distract Superman so he can further his own ends. In this Luthor goes toe to toe with Superman by kidnapping his mother. So we are meant to believe Superman can hear Lois Lane wherever she calls from in the world, yet he is completely in shock when his mother is taken. Really? I mean Really?

Then we get to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Gadot is a capable actress. I very much enjoyed her part in the Fast and Furious series and she again looks the part of a tall amazonian superhero. Yet she is handled so poorly here that is is impossible not to think of her as eye candy. She should be a hero for women all over the world. There should be flashbacks to the deeds she has done in the past, rather than a poorly explained photo from 100 years ago. Her costume also suffers from the Snydervision effect. All the colour and shiny metal are gone replaced by the dullness and dirt that sums up these films. He first introduction is handled as poorly as the introduction of a Bond girl in the 70’s and she never regains credibility. Dumped into the film that does not need her she dresses as if clearly from a different plane and her powers make her Superman’s equal in the final battle. Why did she not lend a hand in the first film?

This is clearly a precursor to a Justice League film, yet it abandons all that is needed for a modern superhero film. The final scenes are a complete role reversal from the comic that it should have drawn so heavily from. This has been done to great effect in the reboot of Star Trek, but here like everything else, it seems dirty and layered with grime. If the same visual style permeates through the rest of the Justice league films then the only one that has a chance is an Affleck led Batman. Presumably to keep in the story arc it will have to focus on the beginning of Frank Miller’s seminal work. It is the only thing dark enough to suit these filters.

While Marvel goes from strength to strength. DC has taken a huge step backward since Chris Nolan’s trilogy. Gone is the real world basis which kept it apart from the Marvel films, gone is the time taken to develop any characters or emotions and ultimately, gone is any audience investment in the film. Affleck’s asshole Batman has potential but the empty vessels around him make this a horror show.

See for yourself with the DVD release

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition

Overwatch Review – Splatoon Fully Realised

When I played Splatoon, I was excited at the prospect but ultimately disappointed at the end product. A number of Nintendo only traits ruined what could have been a great experience. Now with Overwatch, we get a view of what Splatoon could have been.

Overwatch, developed by Blizzard has released on PC and PS4/XBOX and immediately grabs you with its presentation. The characters are colourful and jump to life straight away. It is apparent from the beginning that characters play a major role in the game. Jumping into a quick game you are faced with the choice of character and style of play. There are offensive, builder, support and tank. This is like the MOBA style of game and it is essential that your team is made up of a good mix of these. For a first time player, it can be quite daunting.

When you see the character screen, you are immediately drawn to certain characters. Reaper, for example, is a dual shotgun wielding, dealer of death. He looks exceptionally cool and early games may see a superfluous of him. Scratch a little deeper and he has a few interesting abilities. He can teleport to a targeted location on the map or change to a mist, that allows him to move quickly and avoid gunfire. In this mode, he cannot shoot. Anyone familiar with gaming will quickly see the tactic with him is to use the mist or teleport to get in close to a character before unloading with both shotguns rapidly. But what if the character you are trying to kill is a close quarter specialist as well? This fine balance means that every decision needs to be thought out.

Reinhardt is a tank character with a huge melee hammer that can cut a character down in a couple of swings. He can also fire a projectile from this but it is slow moving and easily dodged. His real strength is the ability to create a huge shield for his teammates to hide behind, slowly advancing up the map. The differences between each character are so pronounced that you could spend the whole article talking about the pros and cons of each. Luckily the game does a good job of making you learn this yourself. Holding left on the control pad shows you all the abilities of each character and how to trigger them. This is normally done in the 30 seconds before the round starts. Reinhardt’s shield is particularly useful in the game mode where you escort a payload. Put the shield up and go to the back of the payload and begin to push. As long as your team protect your rear and let you recharge the shield when necessary, you can score a decent win and feel like you actually contributed to the win. Herein lies the draw of overwatch.

When you play a game you honestly feel like you have a job to do and a necessary role to play. If it says in the team screen that there are no support characters, being a healer suddenly makes you essential. Combine a healer with a tank and you have a moveable anchor which can make its way up the map while lesser assault characters are killed and respawn. It manages to blend the MOBA style with the competitiveness of a COD deathmatch only here your K\D ratio is not king. It is the role you play for the team. After each game, there is a highlight that shows the play of the game. Usually, some epic play using a special ability. My personal favourite so far has been the cyber ninja Genji. He has an ability where he holds his sword and deflects the bullets or projectiles back at the person who fired. In close quarters, one player held the block as all others turned to fire on him. After a few seconds, Genji remained, his sword having deflected all the bullets back to the senders. After the play of the game, four stars are chosen for their roles in the game and all the other players are allowed to vote for which one was the best. It is a nice and non-confrontational way to get graded rather than someone sitting top with 30 odd kills from camping.

Speaking of camping Blizzard have also included two characters so players of COD will feel at home. Soldier 76 is your typical FPS guy with the right trigger firing his assault rifle and the left firing helix rockets. He can heal himself and others and even sprint, a rarity in the game. Anyone who feels out of place in Overwatch can slip into Soldier 76 like a comfy pair of shoes and contribute to the match. Widowmaker is the only sniper character in the game. Firing with the right trigger is an assault rifle where the left zooms in for the sniper shot. To aid her camping abilities. She has an ability to fire a grappling hook up to higher platforms and a poisonous landmine to protect against close attacks. Like Reaper, she is a popular character at the moment.

The variety of character is quite amazing. Every character has their own skills and the skills make perfect sense. No character has an unnecessary skill, they point you towards the style of play but also let you use them in unique ways. Hanzo is a Japanese archer type, As well as his arrows he can fire a ricochet arrow into crowded spaces and also fire a portable tracer arrow that reveals targets. So here he can fire the arrow to see if anyone is in the room, then if they show up send in the ricochet arrow. You could literally go down the list of characters and show how they are overpowered versions of themselves. It is such a well-balanced game already, that there us a counter to almost everything.

The only flaw at the moment is from lack of game modes. There is no single player campaign and only the three types of objective based games. Being Blizzard there is a load of free DLC promised that will sweeten the blow. With Overwatch, Blizzard is trying to monopolise the space on console and PC at the first attempt. From the excellent map design to the character orientated play, they may have succeeded, hopefully, the modes can be fleshed out like other Blizzard products in the coming months.

 

How Nier Automata Drags You In Despite The Emptiness

Nier Automata was a game I was hoping to avoid, with trying to Platinum Horizon Zero Dawn, Finish Zelda and colonise Andromeda in Mass Effect. But after the buzz around how good it is, I traded a few while they had value and picked it up. Unfortunately despite the pedigree, fluidity of attack and intriguing storyline there is emptiness at the centre of the early game that I haven’t overcome yet.

Starting off, the similarities between Nier and Platinum’s other games are obvious. In 2b they have a protagonist that shares traits with Bayonetta, yet she moves more like the characters in their other classic Vanquish. After a distraction with the Transformers and Turtles games, Platinum are back to being their original best with Nier Automata.

2B is an android and in the early game, you learn that androids are created by humans to fight against the machines in the great wars. After defeat by the machines, humans have had to move to a colony on the moon. Like the rest of the game, this isn’t immediately apparent to the player. You firstly play a bullet hell shooter to show how much control the machines have over the earth, as you try to land your ship. It is a nice departure from other games that spend ages with cutscenes explaining a back-story that is hard to remember when the action starts. Nier drops you right into the action.

One thing to note is the warnings you receive throughout the early game. It doesn’t support auto saving. In fact, before you get a chance to save you will go through about an hour of play, a sub-boss and a much larger boss before you get a chance to save. In other words, concentrate from the beginning or else you will be doing it again and again. The combat style is very like Bayonetta with heavy and light attacks and a dodge button. Obviously this early in the game you are not a death-dealing machine but muscle memory should allow you to dispatch the early foes.

In combat, the lock-on feature is handled you your pod. The pod is a floating robot accessory that acts as your guns and your mechanics. It feels like the companion you have in Metal Gear Solid 4 Sons Of Liberty. It acts as a way to contact your base as well as being your ranged attack.  Unfortunately, it takes a bit more aiming at this stage than I would have liked. Usually, the guns in these games are a way to keep a combo going or do chip damage to an enemy as you circle them for a decent angle of attack. The starting gun from your pod is stronger than usual but has no auto-lock, meaning that you can take the time and be a ranged combatant, however in doing so you miss out on the balletic close combat that the developers are famous for. You can see the reasoning behind it but unfortunately, it hides the strongpoint of the game. This is only a personal gripe however and soon you are knee deep in enemies, juggling the way you kill them, slowly defining your own style.

Here is where the game feels a little flat with me. The enemy models are uninteresting. Whether they improve as the game goes on or this is a conscious game design choice remain to be seen. They simply aren’t threatening or interesting at all. Here you have a gloriously designed protagonist, interesting world and great combat, seemingly wasted on small non-threatening dustbins. It ‘s as if you are fighting the droids that lined up in front of the Sandcrawler in Star Wars. This is just a view on the early game but it is something that has bothered me over the first few hours. I feel that using my array of killing moves on small loveable muppet droids, is a bit off, especially when you see the way they attack you. Even though they look harmless, one strike from them can set you back and make you need to use a recovery, it makes fights more difficult than they appear and certainly keeps you on your toes.

The world itself is very much in the current vein of extreme apocalyptic worlds. Like Horizon, it is so far past the apocalypse that there are only hints of the old human world. Unfortunately, this can lead to a bit of aimless wandering, from point to point. Luckily there are interesting loot drops and even fishing to contend with along the way. The map unlocking feature leading you to get save points is very much in keeping with the rest of the game.

Another nice feature is the discovery of other dead android bodies. These are the fallen bodies of other players. When you get to them you have the choice of prayer which sends the other player a health boost, then retrieve or repair. Retrieve, boosts your character while repair allows the dead player to fight alongside you. It is one of the best implementations of the Dark Souls mechanic, I have seen and really makes you think. You could be walking through a seemingly deserted area when you stumble upon a dead player. Usually, the question in your mind is ‘How did anyone die here?’ Then you find out.

Because of this, however, I am more than intrigued to play the rest of the game. There is just something about the empty feeling in the beginning of the game that drags you in. The first enemy that is different from the standard droids is such a shock to the system that suddenly the design choice makes some sense. Other design choices are yet to make sense. The upgrade system is poorly explained and you can end up buying duplicates of items you already have. The storyline hides some of the menu options by default and I feel there must be some investigation required from the player to get the most from the menu system.  In all this is a very risky strategy from Platinum games, but one that seems to have hooked every player who has lifted the game. It has certainly hooked me but as of yet, I can offer no clear explanation why I want to play on. If as said the game requires multiple playthroughs before it reveals itself then it could be the sleeper hit of the year. At the moment, in the early game, it is a quite soulless, hollow curio that needs much more investigation.

You can see for yourself here
Nier Automata: Day One Edition

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Mass Effect Andromeda – The First Level From Hell And Other Issues

Mass Effect Andromeda has been receiving a hard time in the press lately. As I have only got my copy I cannot go into a full review however what I have experienced so far has shocked me. Despite the furore over the facial and other animations, the real crime is how poorly the first act is handled. While the game improves dramatically when you get past the intro the first hour reminded me of Passengers 2016 more than any game intro from the studios past. It is so bad that newcomers will immediately be put off especially this month with two of the generations greatest games released in Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda Breath Of The Wild.

Starting with a clichéd, wake from cryosleep due to some external factors your character is analysed by one of the many crewmates on the ship. This is when you will first see the hideous creation you have made in the game’s character creator. Usually, you spend hours making them look as close to yourself as possible, here you will probably spend five minutes. One piece of advice using Mass Effect Andromeda’s character creator is this. DO NOT GIVE YOUR CHARACTER A FULL BEARD. Even if you have a full beard, in reality, it is not worth staring at what looks like something from the Lego Movie or a cheap piece of carpet on the characters face for upwards of 50 hours of gameplay. This is not a new occurrence in a Bioware game, my worst memory of the excellent Dragon Age Inquisition was the ‘lip gloss’ effect on characters lips. These quirks are easily forgiven if te game itself drags you along.

Dragon Age Inquisition had the epic attack on the temple and your quick rise to the role of Inquisitor facing a world-ending the danger. The original Mass Effect had the ‘Training Day’ esque revelation that your mentor was the antagonist. All these games have a streamlined and action-packed opening that gives the player a great impression of what is to follow and gives them the mental drive to carry on through a long action RPG.

Without spoiling the entire opening, Mass Effect Andromeda starts with a simple mission gone wrong that lands you on a hostile planet. As the son of the ‘Pathfinder’, you assist them as they search for hospitable planets to colonise. All interesting and good in the grand scheme of things and overall story but without a well put together opening the game is allowing this to effect many people’s criticism of the game.

An opening level needs to be a few things. It needs to be interesting, it needs to be reasonably easy and it can have no form of player frustration at the systems of the game or indeed the mechanics. While there are notable exceptions to this such as Dark Souls, and the recent Nier Automata, they are exceptions to this rule by design, not accidentally.

Mass Effect Andromeda has a number of big problems. You pick up skill points that the game encourages you to use immediately without any explanation or direction in how to use them. You can, of course, go into the menus and read what these points will effect but you are basically playing a guessing game. More criminal than this is the amount of loot and weapon modifications you pick up that you cannot use. Playing on normal difficulty the first level has a few points that are a decent struggle to players of any ability and as such means, you immediately want to equip any modification that could help you in these fierce fights. Of course, these fights wouldn’t be as fierce if the introduction level had a well-designed map and layout that encouraged easy cover based shooting. It doesn’t and regularly you will head to what looks like cover only for your character to not stick to it in the now standard context-sensitive way. The game also introduces a scanning mechanic which ignores the click of the right stick in favour of a d-pad command. This wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have the ability to scan almost everything in the level for resource points. If you play these games like I do you horde these resources in the early game to level up as quickly as possible. The scanner requires you to open it, target the object a hold x to scan it. Some of them light up even though scanning them will yield nothing. It is just a clumsy mechanic and as the first, you are introduced to, continues the feeling of resentment. Finally, when you are struggling to find your way through the barren map there are environmental hazards such as toxic areas and random lightning bolts. Yes, the developers have decided to put environmental hazards into the level when the player is just getting used to the floaty jump and dash mechanics. You only find out that Triangle is your melee button after you have been mauled by a few alien mutant dogs. Again thanks, developers.

But luckily these are teething problems and the game does smooth itself out. But why must we go through this horrible experience before the game starts properly? Surely this contributes to the online hate and vitriol that has been spewed in the direction of the game since the embargo was lifted. Think of the amazing first hour of Metal Gear Solid 5. The escape from the hospital, the general craziness the lack o difficult player input. It all got you psyched to play the rest of the game. Think of the beginning of GTA V. The bank heist in the snow, again it was adrenaline charged and had solid mechanics. It exuded a feeling of quality that persisted through the game. That is all you really want an intro level to be. Luckily Mass Effect Andromeda recovers from this and comes close to the game you think you are buying, it’s just a pity so many people will have had their view tainted by this poorly implemented opening.

You can see for yourself here

Mass Effect Andromeda (PS4)

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