News

New Years Update

I sat down with myself the other day and decided that one of my few, and ultimately doomed new years resolutions, would be to update this blog at least once a week if not more, and I will do my best to hold to that, as there’s a lot of industry developments as of late, and a long-winded article every couple of weeks just doesn’t really cut it, so here’s to hoping that works out.

To begin with I told myself that MyTwoSenses shouldn’t too be formulaic, as there’s enough cookie-cutter stuff out there already, but I’ve realised that a few weekly sections/articles wouldn’t go amiss, and might be an easier way to convey my drivel to you fine sirs. With that say, starting from today I’m going to a “weekly picks” article, with links to sites and vidoes worth wasting your time on and a little bit of info, whether it be useful game guides, kick-ass headshots or simply stupid viral-y sort of stuff. So…

Weekly Picks 13/01/10

  • First thing to check out, if you don’t already follow it, is Zero Punctuation, and it’s awesome games video reviews done by the hilarious and frankly psychotic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
  • Next up is YouTube channel from a gentleman who goes by the name of SeaNanners. This guy posts up video commentary on his games of Call of Duty, as well as giving tips on how to make that special sort of pwnage ensue and additionally does some light-hearted video commentary for a few other games. Comical, useful and generally good clean fun – do it.
  • Another YouTube Channel now, College Humour – Besides a shitload of funny and well produced spoofs and parodies of movies and pop culture (I highly recommend the “I gotta feeling” Parody) they run a gaming series called Bleep Bloop and I found their recent review of Tony Hawk’s Skateboard Controller to be particularly poignant and thought-provoking to me…well not really, but just watch it, you’ll see.
  • And finally something completely un-games related, but awesome nonetheless is Zach Galifianakis’ (star of The Hangover) Between Two Ferns. If you’re partial to a bit of extremely awkward humour, this is definitely your cup of tea and has to be seen to be believed.

And that’s it for this week, lookout for a Games News Update in the next day or two. As always let me know your thoughts about anything on the blog , even hate mail is fun!

January 13th, 2010
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Reviews

The Saboteur

Let me start out by saying I wanted to enjoy this game, especially as Pandemic Studios’ last gasping breath before it was consumed by the cutbacks and dissolution brought by this recession, but alas. The “looks good on paper” sentiment I offered after my visit to the Eurogamer Expo a couple of months ago works all too well with this title.

Now we’re no strangers to dubious foreign accents in the games world, especially with the recent Super Mario Assassins Assassin’s Creed 2 but The Saboteur takes the biscuit. Our protagonist is Sean Devlin, based on World War 2 resistor William Grover-Williams, and apparently the developers considered the Anglo-French roots of the real-life hero (yes, I can use wikipedia!) to be distasteful to Americans, so why not make him Irish, close enough right? So its when the awful accents proceed that in my mind, I’m transported into a world of Guiness and Clover leaves rather than the horrors of Nazi occupation and it doesn’t therefore help when the dialogue often descends into a series of cheesy one-liners – I kid you not, one of the first Xbox achievements is “A pint and a shag”. All this might be passable (as its certainly not a game-breaker and can be taken lightly) if the game didn’t also try to deal with some deep content like deaths of companions in wake of the Blitzkrieg – I had no idea the “horrors of war” included twatty catchphrases in odd Irish accents.

The Saboteur has a lot to it, but lack any substantial unique features

The Saboteur has a lot to it, but lacks any substantial unique features

The real shame is that the game does have some interesting things to offer – the black and white film noire concept, where areas in the spirit of the resistance once again regain their full colour is definitely intriguing, and I did feel immersed for short periods wandering the dark Paris alleyways with a fantastic soundtrack of soft jazz hovering in the background but the other ideas conflict with this and ruin what I can see at least one developer or producer was trying to offer up. The actual narrative doesn’t help much either, despite clichéd deaths and dialogue, there’s no real depth or interest in the story – it simply becomes one sabotage mission after another, I know its called that, but come on!

In terms of gameplay, The Saboteur is what can only be described as the bastard (and underachieving I might add) child of assassin’s creed, mercenaries and grand theft auto. So as you can imagine there are plenty of things to do in Paris from drinking in the local cabaret/strip joint to destroying poorly built German fortifications, and on top of this, plenty of ways to get around – by foot, car and even rooftop, Ezio-style – I cant blame them for lack of variation; but here’s the thing, all of these mechanics are done half assed to say the least, every aspect has been done infinitely better in another game. Sprinting makes Sean look like a lepricon on a mixture of lucky charms and steroids, climbing becomes as mash of buttons as you press action for every single ledge and grip and the driving has all the physics and weighting of Mario kart on the N64. While some successful franchises may have disillusioned other companies into thinking it might be otherwise – the old saying still retains truth “quality not quantity”.

I respect Pandemic for the choice of classical vehicles and the ability to acquire them and the array of weapons; killing Nazis is always fun and the weapons and fighting isn’t to bad considering it’s 3rd person – I can see what they were tying to do, but the poor controls and mechanics tend to take from potentially good moments. There were times when I laughed, times when I felt immersed and instances where I identified with the characters but they were few and far apart, and strung together by a lot more dodgy moments. In one race early on, I managed to secure a good lead and eventually came to lapping some of my opponents. However, I didn’t quite manage to lap the driver in 2nd place before the end of the race, so the game proceeded to award me 2nd place – that’s just bad and the AI is nothing shout about. Besides the mechanics a lot of immersion is lost through poor and unpolished animations, which make many simple exercises seem awkward and difficult. For instance, knocking into a 7-foot pile of straw instantly transforms it into about 6 lonely strands floating to the ground and…well I wanted some way to fit a joke in using “hay day” but I couldn’t.

Climbing is awkward at best, but ruling the Parisienne rooftops can be fun.

Climbing is awkward at best, but ruling the Parisienne rooftops can be fun.

So don’t get me wrong – this game is certainly playable, and is probably worth the money to most gamers out there if you’ve got it to spare, especially if you like your enemies to not only be Nazis, but also walk in to bars in tight outfits with henchmen and play out a scene from Talladega Nights or Dodgeball. Graphically, aside from the black and white thing, there’s not much to talk about, it does the job – and when that’s one of the only satisfactory aspects, you know something is a tad off. It would be unfair to say the it completely rips most of its’ features from other games, as Pandemic has a sandbox heritage, including Mercenaries, but many features do feel like the Rolex you bought in Thailand that actually says “Rollex”. The Saboteur is certainly a victim of its own ambition, and when you’re up against titans like call of duty, throwing all the ideas you can at a game just doesn’t cut it. RIP Pandemic.

January 9th, 2010
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Reviews

Assassin’s Creed 2

Well it’s long overdue that I review a game so I figured I’d get down to it. Anyone who played the original Assassin’s Creed will know the very blatant flaws that Ubisoft presented us with. On one hand you had a stunning game, especially for 2007, that beautifully recreated the holy land of the Middle Ages, along with the irritating beggars and templars; albeit be it slightly condensed, with Damascus being a short country stroll from Acre – but we could forgive that. However, on the other hand, and what many found it hard to forgive, was the hideously repetitive and unoriginal gameplay. It felt as though they’d finished the graphics and gameplay mechanics but got a little bored and fancied a cup of tea and a biscuit instead of wasting anytime on combat or content. Big mistake. Because of this, and because of the hype that had surrounded it, prior to its release, it received a pretty bad wrap from a large percentage of its potential community. However Ubisoft have admirably, taken the feedback.

In ACII you play as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian, born to a wealthy family in Florence, and yes, you are literally born in the game, gooey fluids and all. From there on the hilarious Italian accents roll forth, but it comes off as charming and a little quirky to anyone who understands it’s a game and not BBC costume drama. Within the first couple of minutes the narrative is already clearly more comprehensive, coherent and interesting than AC1. You start developing connections with your family and actually care for them – even your “Its me, MARIO!” uncle.

This time round our assassin doesnt have inexplicable aversion to water.

This time round our assassin doesn't have an inexplicable aversion to water.

The story this time round is infinitely more engrossing, but builds on the plans that AC1 set out, and while some parts feel a little far-fetched, given the story, it generally works pretty well and many reviewers report that they played the last quarter solely for the narrative, not because of bad gameplay, but rather because of the fantastic story. Along with the painstakingly  recreated historical architecture, the game attempts to throw a few historical personalities in the mix. But it makes no claims that it’s a true representation, and simply entwines them in the story for fun, the most noteworthy being Leonardo Da Vinci who acts your Q-esque gadget man and sidekick, and I personally very much enjoyed the cute and somewhat awkward bromance that occurs between Ezio and the renaissance inventor!

One of the most marked improvements is the variation in gameplay and missions. Each main task has its own unique twist and element in the story, from use of Da Vinci’s (apparently workable) flying machine to a spaghetti western horse and cart chase. There’s even some sections underground that feel very Prince of Persia-ish, but its done in such a way, and only for a short section, that it feels like a little tribute to the earlier free-running platformer games, while adding yet more variety. The length of the story is not overly generous but certainly isn’t cut short like the recent Modern Warfare 2 and there’s plenty of side quests and places to explore for extended gameplay. This blockbuster actually manages to reconcile all its ideas exceedingly well and everything is tied in with the narrative very well, even the random collectibles spread over the cities and countryside which is a welcome improvement on the glowy flags in AC1, whose inexplicable existence in a game so set on being realistic on many levels, irritated me a great deal.

Ubisoft, in their effort to add heaps more content into this sequel, which is of course not a bad thing, instituted Ezio’s villa and town, and have tried to travel down the RPG route, however it hasn’t worked spectacularly, because really, they got tired out and gave up halfway along that route: To do up the villa and town, you must spend money and invest in it; this in turn either raises the villa’s income, or lowers the cost of weapons, armour and medicine in the shops. It doesn’t take a genius to workout that after a while, with no upkeep costs and no threats, that you’ve got the perfect investment – no pyramid scheme here. Except, you end up rolling in money with diddley-squat to spend it on, as the consumables, such as medicine and knives, cost pocket change. Additionally, in this villa of yours, there’s no choice, and no decision, its just invest in everything once you have the money, which you can simply wait for, piling up every 20 minutes in your chest. And thus this feature seems fairly hollow when you look at it. Infact within the game as a whole there’s not much choice at all, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when there is the pretence. For example, you can customize the colour of your robes, but the choice rangers all the way from grey with mustard spilt on it, to grey with ink spilt on it.

Having said all this, the town, villa and clothing features are all fairly well presented features, and one has to take the attitude that its better they’re there than not, although they don’t reach their full potential. One area where there is a fair amount of choice and personalisation is weaponry; there’s are quite a wide variety of swords and daggers, and you can use certain other weapons by disarming guards. Nabbing a pike, then proceeding to impale your foes and then scraping their limp body off it again, entrails and all, I assure you, is quite delightful.

The game features a number of stunning Italian locations, but not Rome in its entirety, unfortunately.

The game features a number of stunning Italian locations, but not Rome in its entirety, unfortunately.

Mutilations aside, controls can be a little ropey and unforgiving especially with the targeting system, but for a game that tries to accomplish so much, it is understandable. Mirror’s Edge did a far superior job in terms of free running but its still fun to roam the rooftops like a maniac and throw yourself into piles of hay with safety mats hidden underneath. Combat feels fairly similar to the original, just with many more differing ways to humiliatingly slaughter guards, arguably just doing their job – but this time round it feels a lot more fluid. The countryside has been opened up so that all the cities aren’t connected by a convenient series of gorges through the rocks, and should you want to forego the scenic route, there’s a quick travel system that was much needed.

Assassin’s Creed 2 is the perfect example of a sequel that’s improved upon the original according to customer feedback. Every aspect of the original game is in there, except with more variety and fluidity. Not only this, but it also offers up a great story and fascinating historical links and information. Being a great advocate of both interactive story telling and games as art, this certainly ticks many of the boxes, and what’s more arty than the architecture and paintings from the Italian Renaissance? After Modern Warfare 2, this is a must buy – there’s a great deal I’ve missed out on account of spoilers, as this is definitely a game which your going to be and going to want to be surprised at, at every turn, whether it’s the final twist or simply your mother beautifully saying the words “Besides Vaginas!” in that lovely accent.

December 6th, 2009
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