Monster Hunter (PS2)

What’s this? A game where you actually hunt scary monsters, and not run away in terror you say? I’m in.

Let’s face it; the world is a supremely scary place. I’m not talking about growing up and suddenly finding everything more daunting and/or more expensive to ensure continual survival (although that could be classed as a somewhat more terrifying idea). No, I’m talking about getting back to nature; sharks and lions and things, which are perfectly capable of killing and eating someone like a human sausage roll. Perhaps it’s some primal instinct of ours, but for some of us seeing a Great White zoom out of the water and tear an innocent kite surfer to bits is enough to empty bladders at an extraordinary rate. Of course, to counteract this the human race does tend to shoot things that it doesn’t like, but that’s just part of the predator/prey cycle, right? In any case, Monster Hunter, released here in 2005, had us doing something of that nature, but with a bit of a twist…

…hmm. On second thoughts, it may be wiser to delay following that for the moment, and set a little scene for you, dear readers. In this game you were a hunter; a lowly little hunter, in a lonely village ( or town; offline and online respectively), perhaps just like any other. But you had ambition, you wanted to be the best hunter there ever could be! So, yeah, essentially you got given quests by the village elder, a strange little man around whose visage popped up various speech bubbles asking you to do stuff. There was a quaint little blacksmiths, from whence you could buy/make armour and weapons, a shop selling item such as traps and bombs, as well a man who could sell the player books about your prey. You also owned a little house, where you could eat, sleep and make merry (well, only sleep really, but it’s all about imagination y’know), and change your appearance etc. It was all rather nice, safe and comforting, until you stepped into the scary world and encountered…

…monsters! Ah, there we are. Yes, as the name of the game suggests, you were a monster hunter, tasked with tracking down all manner of hideous and rather large beings across the different sections of the map. Some of these tasks just involved collecting resources from these nefarious beasts, while others involved a full-on monster hunt! These monsters ranged from docile, hadrosaur-like herbivores, to the almighty and fearsome wyverns. Yes, wyverns: massive dragon type beasties that could kill you as soon as accidently treading on you. Your armour and weapons could be augmented with these resources to create truly cool-looking pieces of equipment. It wasn’t just about hacking and slashing the poor thing to bits, however, as it took skill and cunning too; luring down the larger species with raw meat was a viable option, then trapping it and setting off a large barrel bomb in its face also worked a treat. Of course, this needed to be repeated several times with the big fellas, for they did not come down easily.

The thing is, it was all rather terrifying to play, at least for me (who can’t look a scary game in the eye without bursting into tears). Although you were armed to the teeth with blades and gunpowder, it was somehow still hard to shake off the horrible feeling that you were going to be something’s lunch. I recall an early mission where Ihad to steal an egg from a Rathalos (one of the strongest wyverns; why I was forced to encounter it near the start of the game you could well wonder). Ihad journeyed through the different zones, ending up at the one marked as just outside the Rathalos nest. I was going in all sneaky-like, quite aware of what could be breathing down my neck in the blink of an eye, when all of a sudden this huge, red, angry wyvern lands some way in front of me. As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, it then proceeded to charge across the ground at great speed, larger than London, mouth open wide with fangs screaming ‘please let me use you as a chew toy’. Long story short, I ran for it, and kept running for it every time this happened. It didn’t always happen though, as sometimes it would be sleeping in its nest-, which was of course even worse when it woke up!

This feeling of sheer terror was great though, as without it Monster Hunter may have been just a mediocre hunting experience where the only element of danger was eventually running out of health against tediously hard to kill monsters. As it is, it was an amazing game with an equally amazing array of monsters, great and slightly smaller, which was pleasantly distracting from real life. And thank goodness it isn’t real life I say…brr…monsters (looks furtively over shoulder).

So it turns out I did a bit of running away from scary monsters. Ok, a lot of running. Fine, fine, most of my playing time was spent on the run. Don’t judge me! You weren’t there!

7/10

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Just Cause 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Ah, there’s nothing like parachuting around the local area, ripping heads off of statues and blowing up some stuff. And that’s just on mondays.

Crikey. That’s all I can say as I stare, eyes bulging, at this game of epic proportions from Eidos Interactive and Avalanche Studios. Open World games which are actually a) open and b) massive, are few and far between, but couple that with an enormous sense of fun…and wow; that is Just Cause 2.

Before I explain in lavish detail exactly how this is achieved, perhaps we should establish the basic setting. You are Rico Rodriguez, an agent from the Agency (Crackdown, anyone?), tasked with finding your mentor Tom Sheldon in the Island of Panau, where an anti-US, oppressive dictatorship has just come onto power. How convenient. While finding said mentor, your objective is to cause as much chaos as possible on the island in order to annoy the new dictator ‘Baby’ Panay, as let’s face it, no-one likes their friend turning into an evil autocrat (unless, of course, you get a share of the power into the bargain). Chaos generally involves blowing things up, although there are a few assassinations to attempt as well. And, yeah, that’s the basic premise essentially. Oh yeah, and the map is MASSIVE! Rivers, forests, deserts, snow-capped mountains, it’s got it all.

Now, onto the really cool stuff. As I mentioned before, causing chaos mostly means blowing stuff up, and by stuff I mean satellites, fuel canisters, oil pipelines, SAM sites, radar dishes, wind turbines, and a whole lot of other easily spotted combustibles. Of course, it would a lot easier to rip the head off a statue of Panay by attaching it to an attack helicopter…wait a minute, you say while your minds race, attach it with what? Mwahahahahaaaaa! Ahem. The grappling hook, dear readers, the grappling hook! This is the number one piece of kit for all aspiring Agency agents; why bother with guns when you can just attach a Panauan soldier to the bonnet of a car speeding past, and watch him fly away into the distance? This thing can be attached to anything, and I mean anything. Want to mess up that enemy fighter jet’s flight plan? Why not use the grapple to stick an armoured car to it, and laugh as it flies off course into a forest and explodes, showering the area with debris. One of my favourite things to do is wait at the civilan airport for a jet to start taking off, attach my car to it, hop in the automobile while still attached and enjoy myself as I’m flung along the runway and dangle helplessly from a plane thousands of feet up in the air. Try it.

Of course, the grappling hook is a handy way to move around too, as if you aim at something and fire off a grapple, Rico will zoom effortlessly to that point as if on an invisible elastic band. This can be fantastic if you’re, say, hanging from a pilotless helicopter, which is on fire, and want to hijack that military vehicle closing in; no problem, just aim and poiinnngg, away you fly to land on the opposing helicopter. Hijacking is quite cool too, with one of these button-pressing quicktime events, after which Rico will toss the pilot out to plummet to his death. Of course, if you’re still in your now spinning helicopter and want to jump out to avoid, as they say, being squished like a bug on a high street, then the parachute can come in handy. This can be deployed at any time (while in the air obviously), and can be a surprisingly fast way of getting around the map. Did I mention Panau is huge? Thought so.

This game isn’t perfect, and I am under no illusions that it is. As with any game, it has its niggles and annoyances, which, although not rendering it unplayable (although one bug actually does; the screen just freezes and it effectively crashes for some unknown and profoundly annoying reason), can still get you down at the best of times. Chief amongst these is somewhat repetitive mission structure; someone will drive up in a truck, dump an unidentifiable heap at your feet, perhaps throw in a motorbike or something, tell you to go there, kill them, rescue him, destroy that, etc etc. One type of mission is actually exactly the same every time, which is extremely tedious and yawn-inspiring. Aiming is rather difficult too, but seeing as guns aren’t always the best method of extermination in this game, it’s not that much of a problem.

What we have to remember, though, is that this wasn’t designed for an awesome, fantastically in-depth storyline; Just Cause 2 feels like a ‘B’ movie, one of those ‘run and gun/explosions’ kinda deals, and it excels at this. I could spend hours of my time just exploring the huge map an blowing things up in a frivolous fashion. In fact,I do indeed do that. And so should you.

Forsooth! Who needs plot anyway? My cynical, machine, videogame-reduced mind requires only MAYHEM! 

8/10

Marathon Review (Mac)

Found the Marathon series the other day. Remembered how scared I use to be of the aliens, laughed, and then promptly hid behind the sofa.

It would be pretty difficult to find someone out there who hadn’t heard of the Halo series. Whether through playing the games, reading the comics, buying or even making Spartan costumes, almost everyone (we hope) would recognise Bungie’s legendary masterpiece that is Halo.

And yet running around shooting aliens wasn’t a new idea for Bungie. Waayy before they made Halo, a game was introduced called Marathon in 1994 for the Mac. I’ll say this now before Iexplode; these games blew my mind sky high! Marathon had cool graphics (for the time obviously), awesome alien freakiness and a nice plotline which certainly tried to distract me from the carnage I was unleashing. I really couldn’t get enough. So, dear readers, let us tell you a tale about a galaxy far, far away…No, it’s not Star Wars, but somewhere equally futuristic…

So. You’d just fired up Marathon, seen the cool image of a man looking not unlike the Master Chief holding a skull, it seemed pretty cool but, meh. You selected new game and difficulty, and then were plunged into the darkness of the Marathon universe. Enter the United Earth Space Council’s ship, the UESC Marathon. You are a lone security officer on board, it’s dark and the ship has just been invaded by a hereby unknown alien race, the ‘Phfor’. Hmm. Slight increase in pulse perhaps, but the motion tracker’s there, you should be able to tell where the enemies are. You’re only armed with a magnum. Ah. Pulse quickens as the realisation dawns that whatever appears as you move ahead, you’re going to have a hard time fighting them off. Seems like a little side room down here. Hands are a bit shaky on the keyboard. Pretty dark down here, I wonder where the ligh-oh my goodness what the heck was that NOISE AND WHAT ARE THOSE RED DOTS ON THE TRACKER AND ARRGGHHHH GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!

That, dear readers, was Marathon essentially; dark, scary and leaving a lot to the imagination when the sheer terror of the unknown set in. However, this fear was offset with a feeling of power as you acquired bigger and better weapons, although admittedly fighting bigger and better enemies. A series of computer terminals told you the story as you progressed through each level, which was a great part of the interesting gameplay. I say’ interesting’ as it wasn’t just shooting involved. Oh no. There was puzzle solving, switch pushing, lever pulling, lava jumping, platforms-that-crush-you dodging among a host of other activities to make this a truly unique experience, if a difficult one as you desperately tried to kill tough aliens while running out of air in a vacuum.

I have to admit that certain aspects of the game were incredibly frustraintg. That eponymous 90s save-point system, where the player would have to literally find the savepoint hidden in the level in order to save their progress, didn’t work quite so well with the vaccum; you could effectively screw yourself over by saving at a point while low on oxygen, then realsing you hadn’t enough left to reach the next one. Then again, the fact that it had a concept of vacuum at all is commendable, with most protagonists nowadays not bothering with refillable oxygen apparently, despite many being set around space.

Marathon’s plot could also be a tad confusing, the player switching between  two sides which somehow both comprised of some of the same enemy types. Of course, me playing when this game was around essentially boiled down to shooting anything and anyone, much to my childlike amusement (especially the surpised shouts of the human ‘allies’ as you shot them in the back, heh heh heh…).

Marathon, if it were played now by some eager youth, probably wouldn’t achieve the same level of captivation as it did with me. To those who have been weaned on Halo and Commander Shepard and regenerating health (pah!), Marathon probably wouldn’t even get a second glance. I beseech, no, I implore you, have another look and be as terrified as I was.

Argh! What was that?! Time to get my score out…oh no, the score’s gone! This game is far too awesome to rate! Nooooarrrghhblurgle

League of Legends Review

At last, another review I hear you cry! Lol, jk, no-one reads this anyway. Still, I had fun writing this review, almost as much fun as I have playing the game.

A friend of mine once told me that Fallout 3 looked terrible, that 3-headed cows were a stupid idea and that there was no way on earth that he’d touch it, let alone buy it; this was before promptly getting the game and effectively marrying it for a year. That friend (they know who they are) acted much like I did when I saw Riot Games’ League of Legends (or LoL) for the first time; and I was horribly, horribly wrong.

Now, I’m going to take the liberty of assuming that most of you reading this have a vague idea of what LoL is all about. If not, you can easily look it up in the many guides, videos, news pieces and other associated paraphernalia available on the World Wide Web. Go on, have a butcher’s.

To continue, then, when LoL is shoved in your face by an eager friend whose discovered it (or, more likely, by a level 30 master of destruction who’s been playing since 2010), it may not seem a bad idea to have a go. Indeed, from the outset the concept of the game is not especially complex. What put me off, however, was the perceived uncompromising criticism of failure which I knew, just knew, that I would find in most matches. And to a certain degree, I was right. Being a person who does tend to fail horrendously when playing games for the first time, I was somewhat heckled by cries of ‘noob’, ‘omg’ and occasionally ‘omg noob WTF???!’ when I died again and again. League of Legends as a game is unforgiving, kills meaning a boost in experience and in-match gold (used to buy items) which can lead to someone being massively ‘fed’ i.e a one man/woman/unidentifiable thing army. This generally means your team will lose, and there is almost nothing you can do about it. It is, in short, a very difficult game.

In fact, a lot of it is based on timing; timing your abilities, knowing when to use some in conjunction with others, and looking at what your compatriots are doing around you. Of course, this means that if you lag AT ALL then you may be in for a hard time.

Understanding what your teammates actually want you to do is another problem; as LoL is based so much on timing, stopping to type out a soliloquy into the chat box is not the brightest idea. That being the case, many players type out confusing things like, ‘panth pull blue’, or ‘tf ad or ap?’ This isn’t an online LoL glossary (or perhaps gLoLssary, ahahaha), but I can tell you that the former means ‘Pantheon, please help me with the monster that gives me the Blue buff, as I need you to take damage while I kill it’, while the latter is in fact, ‘Twisted Fate, are you buying Attack Damage items or Ability Power items’? Confusing, I know, but it’s just one of the many walls for a new player to catapult into.

Once you get past these barriers, though, League of Legends becomes a highly addictive experience; it  creates situations where you assume you’ll just play a match or two, and then emerge a few weeks later to realise your goldfish have died. How does it do this, I hear you ask (well, let’s assume I can hear you, for the review’s sake)? The answer, dear readers, is that many of the annoyances that can put a new player off actually make LoL a far better game than it otherwise would be. Take the high skill-level, for instance; sure, it may be a pain in the ass to play when someone is ‘pwning’ you and you can’t do anything to stop them, but pulling off a trouncing combo of abilities to utterly demolish a player is extremely rewarding. If the game was easy, it would be boring to play, simple as that.

The sheer diversity of the many, many champions, with their respective play styles, is another boon, as it effectively gives you permission to play how you want to. Want to have all the endearing qualities of a sponge made of steel, and soak up the damage so that you’re team can remain unscathed? Then play as one of the many ‘tanks’, and the satisfaction of laughing in your opponent’s face as they attempt to kill you. Perhaps you want to burst down someone’s health in a pyrotechnic display of decreasing health bar? Mayhap you should play as an Ability Power mage, eviscerating players in a matter of seconds. Or, if you’re a sneaky *#!!* like me, if you’ll pardon my French, you could be an assassin, turning invisible and ambushing foes just to have the satisfaction of annoying them (or maybe that really is just me…). The fact each champion is completely unique just adds to the melting pot of choices.

Of course, nothing can cheer up some of the people you play with, relentlessly calling their teammates noobs for every minor transgression. Being called a noob isn’t the end of the world, however, and anyway I recommend that you play with friends so that you avoid most of the whingeing. In any case, as you get better at LoL, you won’t be as catastrophically terrible, like I was, and so the fear of failure isn’t really a problem anymore.

League of Legends is a difficult game to get in to, and even harder to master, but once those beginner-unfriendly protective walls are breached there is nothing to stop you playing for hours and hours at a time. Well, other than the outside world. Or perhaps something called life.

Pfffffff. Who needs fresh air anyway?

I quite agree with myself. Fresh air is for noobs. 10/10

Battlefield 3 Review (Xbox 360)

Here we are, an actual review as promised. I wrote this without initially having any good pictures of BF3, but I’ll probably add some in the future. Hopefully it may provide some useful insight into this awesome game, or merely be mildly entertaining. 

Squad, let’s attack that objective! Sprint sprint sprint to B Flag! Ok, we’re capturing it, let’s set up my Light Machine Gun bipod on this crate. Everyone else is taking cover. Oh, they’ve noticed us at their flag; here they come! Eat some lead! Ahahahahahaa! Suppression Assist, yoink! Thank goodness I attached that extended magazine to my gun before I spawned, I can fire all day! Almost captured, c’mon, c’mon….hey, what the…? Why I am I turning around? Whose face is that? Is that a knife in my chest? Oh.

Respawned again on my squadmate’s spawn beacon; behind enemy lines, nice! Looks like we’re in a tall building, I’ll just set up my LMG in this window overlooking the street. Actually, I’ll put this ammo box down first; you never know. Now, where are they..? Wait, is that a turret? Arrgh, is that a tank? Everybody RUN! Crikey, that wall behind me just exploded! My ears are ringing! Where’s the door?! I can’t get out! No, noooo! BOOM.

That, in essence, is DICE’s Battlefield 3. And it’s awesome.

There is, of course, slightly more to the game than expressed in the two paragraphs above, but it is an accurate summarisation of what makes Battlefield 3 amazing; the focus on teamwork, the guns and attachments and how they sound and feel, the Frostbite 2 engine which can literally blow you away, and so much more.

Visually, seeing Battlefield 3 in all its glory is the equivalent of a situation whereby a group of people from a bleak dystopian future suddenly travel back in time and discover a lush, beautiful planet where once stood grey concrete buildings. Its beauty immediately smacks you in the face, repeatedly, to the point where you wonder why all games do not make use of this fabulous engine. Now, don’t get me wrong; there obviously aren’t any fabulously rendered alien environments, or something of that ilk. No, Battlefield 3’s visuals are more subtle, and yet all the better for it; the way the sun is polarised and lances down from the sky, or how a laser sight looks as it blinds you. It feels almost ….real, and that’s something this game achieves without the obvious drawbacks of it being real.

Obviously, this sense of ‘realism’ is helped immensely by the terrifying level of destruction available through the Frostbite 2 engine. This gimmick is nowadays part of the staple Battlefield diet, and one which is essential to its effectiveness as a shooter. Think someone’s hiding behind a wall? Get out our RPG and simply blow it to smithereens.  Can’t get to grips with that blasted sniper holed up in a building ahead? Perhaps you should reach for the detonator of some C4, that you’ve already made (set up) earlier Blue Peter-style, and bring the building down around him. The fact that a large chunk of the scenery on the maps can be eviscerated in this manner only adds to the intense tactical gameplay on offer, as multiple routes to an objective can be opened up. Of course, it can be rather annoying to find that your perfect sniping position in a high window will soon disappear with that T90 tank looking at you, but again, it feels ‘real’, and stops those bloody campers from doing their thing. This is not CoD, no sir. The sound effects, too, are absolutely incredible. There are none of those horrifically pathetic gunshots that can be found in plenty of other shooters, with guns sounding like someone hitting a saucepan. No, in Battlefield 3 the weapons roar in your hands as you empty a clip into a foe, and the explosions sound unbelievable. One particularly great feature of the audio is the effect of your character’s ears ringing when an explosion happens next to them. It really will make you wince when an Abrams tank let’s fly in your immediate vicinity, and adds to the sense of really being there.

It was perhaps unfair of me to compare Battlefield 3 to Call of Duty, as they are intrinsically different shooters, in multiplayer anyway. Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is all about the objectives, and gaining points by helping out the team. For instance, a rather effective way of amassing points in the match is to get suppression assists; even if you don’t manage to kill the enemy you’re firing at, or even hit them (as I often struggle to do), if someone else does then you will get a suppression assist for, well, suppressing them. In the same way, if one of your allies lies broken on the floor like a discarded doll, whip out the defibrillators and zap them back to life. Battlefield does, and always has, manage to make a player feel like a vital part of a team, not just another soldier worried about his k/d ratio. CoD on the other hand, as we all know, is mostly about killing. Battlefield 3 is obviously about ensuring your foes don’t get up again (hopefully), but it isn’t focused on that; indeed, the most popular game mode seems to be Conquest, which is centred around capturing and holding flags. Team Deathmatch, while technically available, hardly ever seems to come into it anymore.

I could preach about the wondrous nature of Battlefield for a long time, so perhaps it would be best to examine some of the more annoying elements of the game. While multiplayer is arguably the main attraction of Battlefield games, the singleplayer in Battlefield 3 is really something to be generally ignored. While the campaign looks impressive, with inspiring set pieces and a mildly riveting plot, it‘s jumped way too far onto the linear mission structure bandwagon, which is not what Battlefield 3 is all about. Still, missions can be made more fun by playing in Co-op mode, which also unlocks new weapons for multiplayer. To be honest though, anything to do with the campaign’s linearity should be sidelined in favour of the multiplayer.

Playing this on the Xbox 360, a more severe problem (in my opinion anyway) is that, as matches are limited to having only 24 players on at a time as opposed to the Pc’s 64, the whole multiplayer experience can often seem rather empty.  I don’t know about you, but I’m gobsmacked every time I  see a video of a Battlefield 3 match on the PC, with the large numbers of planes dogfighting in the sky and a horde of soldiers duking it out in the streets. When I jump into a jet on the Xbox, it’s generally just me and perhaps someone else in the sky, lazily waiting for an enemy jet to appear. I say lazily, but what I mean is a hair-raising battle with the jet’s controls as I desperately twist to stay in the boundaries of the map and not fly out over the sea to eventually bail out and mysteriously die. It just doesn’t seem as much fun to use everything that the game has to offer; it’s like getting given a Lamborghini, taking it out for a spin and then realising that its top speed is 20mph. Of course, if you have it on the PC, it’s not a problem, and as I have demonstrated at great length, the multiplayer is amazing on whichever platform.

Battlefield 3 is one of those games of which you can write a whole review and still have that nagging feeling that you haven’t gotten across how epic it is. But seriously, it is an amazing game, on whatever platform. It’s probably one of the best shooters of all time. In fact, after playing it you’ll be trying to blow up buildings and things in other shooters, and then start crying as you realise that you can’t. It’s just that good.

 Forsooth! A well deserved 9/10!

The Beginning

Huzzah! The first post of my blog!

Hmm…I won’t lie to you, this post was mostly to test the blog was actually working to my standards.

But fear not, dear readers! I shall be back, with reviews the like of which you have never seeeeeen (possibly).