Mass Effect Review

Why play games that release in 2017 when you can play games that released in 2007 instead?

Game: Mass Effect

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), PC

Price: $15

I know Mass Effect: Andromeda just released, but I don’t have anything powerful enough to play it, and I thought I should actually play the originals before I get to Andromeda.

Mass Effect is a science-fiction spectacle; an action-RPG filled with ambition. The basic plot context is that in the future, humanity discovers a “mass relay”, which enables faster-than-light travel to other planets, and discover an entire alien coalition, which they then join. The plot of this game revolves around you, as the human Commander Shepard tracking down the rogue agent Saren, who attacked a human colony to gain information about the civilisation that came before ours. Mass Effect is very plot-driven and I don’t want to spoil too much, but the story is just pure great sci-fi, plain and simple.

World-building is a large part of any science-fiction story, and Bioware has not skimped out on that aspect. Examining technology, hacking random computer terminals scattered around planets, and collecting artefacts will unlock entries in the “codex”, the game’s encyclopaedia to the Mass Effect universe. If you love all that background information, there’s a lot here to keep you happy.

Another big part of this game is the narrative system. Now, you are in complete control of Commander Shepard’s story. You not only get to customise the look of your character, like other RPGs (I made my Shepard a little silly-looking with a ridiculous moustache, but there are definitely more nightmarish Shepards out there) but also their actions. This game gives you a variety of dialogue choices, and choosing some options will increase your “goodness” (which the game calls Paragon), and some options will increase your “rogueness” (which the game calls Renegade). You also get a variety of other decisions to make, like saving characters or choosing whether to hack someone’s computer for a shady client. It reminds me a bit of Telltale’s games, but this was before Telltale’s big break, and so this style of storytelling deserves a lot of credit. These decisions will also (apparently) carry over into the sequel, and I have to say, I’m excited to take my Shepard through these games.

Gameplay 2

An example of the dialogue wheel in Mass Effect

The gameplay is mainly combat-focused, but sadly this is where the game falls down a little – the gameplay is just a little too repetitive. I played this game twice (more on that later), once on easy and once on medium, and the game was pretty simple both times. The game introduces you to the cover system in the first level, but I found I never really needed to use cover – I just preferred to run and gun. I was playing as a soldier though, which meant I got access to all the guns in the game, but no tech or biotic (magic). You choose your class at the beginning of the game, and there’s definitely a lot of replay value just for the style of gameplay you choose. If I was playing as a different class, like tech, which only gets a pistol and sniper rifle, I might have used cover more.

There’s about 5 main missions to do in this game, and of these 3 can be done in any order, but there’s definitely some benefit to doing some before others (gaining new squad members, for example). This game isn’t open-world like other RPGs we’ve come to know and love, so even though you can tackle the main quest in any order, the levels themselves are mostly linear (there was one mission that was less linear, in that I did it differently on my two playthroughs, but the outcome will always be the same). My one complaint is that I didn’t quite realise the game was going to end with the final mission (I thought the game still had a while to go) and once the game’s over, you can’t go do any of the side missions (disappointing, as the game keeps this sense of urgency throughout and yet the urgency is all fake and you do have time to go off and do side missions). This meant I felt I hadn’t really experienced all the game had to offer after my one bare-bones playthrough, so I did it all again, and did the side missions. There’s one sizeable piece of DLC included in the PS3 version, which was a nice addition, even if it didn’t add much. I did some exploration and side missions in my second playthrough, but after a while they become so similar and their flaws become so apparent – there’s only so many pirate bases with reused assets I can take before I get bored. While there are some interesting missions here, most of the side missions fall flat, which was disappointing for such a large universe.

Gameplay 1

A look at the gameplay

The music in this game was quite good, I don’t usually notice music in games but this music was executed perfectly, it’s all your classic 80s synths and it suits the tone so well. The music becomes a lot more dramatic during the climaxes of missions as well, and it really helps the tone of the game.

The game has some general issues which I think are just a product of the time it was released – texture popping (where textures don’t load fully before a scene begins and then “pop” in later) occurs rather frequently, and during one scene my character just disappeared completely, so Shepard briefly spoke as a levitating pistol, which was quite amusing but also distracting as this was a major climax in the game. One time an entire scene was skipped after a mission. There’s also some design issues – it can be tough to figure out where to go – and a lot of the maps are reused, especially on non-essential planets. These aren’t major issues, but it does take away from the game a bit when each planet you visit just feels like a reskinned version of the last one.

Above all though, Mass Effect is solid. It made me care enough to play it twice, which is something I can’t say a lot about most games, just to experience it properly the second time. I had a really hard time trying to decide what score to give it – it falls just short of excellence, but it’s certainly great. I’m giving a 4/5 objectively, due to it’s design issues, and a 4.5/5 subjectively, because I did really enjoy it.

Positives
+ Great sci-fi storytelling
+ Great customization options
+ Good variety of gameplay options

8.5/10

Negatives
– Gameplay repetitive after a while
– Maps reused for side missions
– Fake urgency detracts from ability to do side missions
– Miscellaneous design and graphical issues

Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 2 Review

When I played Season 1 of Telltale’s unique storytelling game set in the world of The Walking Dead, I absolutely loved it – it was my game of the year of 2014.

Will season 2 of this series be able to retain everything which made the first so great? Or will it fail?

Game: Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 2

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, PS Vita (Reviewed)

Price: $25 for the full season ($5 per episode)

For those of you that have never played, read, or watched anything to do with The Walking Dead, it’s essentially a zombie apocalypse story that focuses on the survivors and their problems in a world where everything is scarce.

Following on from the events in the first game, you control Clementine, a nine year old girl. The opening starts only a couple of months after the ending of the first game, but before long the game skips eighteen months. This is done, partially, to allow Clementine to develop into her own character. In Season 1 she was a major secondary character, but here she is the playable character, so it’s important to distinguish her a little.

clementine

What I immediately noticed about this game is how much darker it is. This is evident not only from its high age rating, but also from the general atmosphere and artwork. While the first game did have some bright artwork, here the majority of the action is gloomy and upsetting: and sure, this is a gloomy and upsetting story, but some variation would have been nice. At the moment, there’s barely any sort of variation between episodes.

Each episode is its own story, but they all are part of a larger arc. The main story here revolves around Clementine trying to find a new group of survivors and her journey with them, which is an interesting story as she soon gets swept up into a series of events that affect her and her group.

One of the problems I had in this season is that it felt like my choices didn’t matter. Now while I don’t mind the illusion of choice, this game doesn’t allow the role-playing experience the first season had. In the first game you controlled Lee, who acted as a father figure to Clementine since the death of her own parents. Some of the best choices you made as Lee had nothing to do with the story, but how you personally chose to raise Clementine. Examples that spring to mind include punching someone a few times but not enough to seriously damage him, not stealing out of the boot of a car, and so on. These choices had little-to-no effect on the story, but it felt like I was choosing what to do in this world, which I feel is just as important as the major decisions. Here, it’s fairly obvious the major decisions don’t have a major effect (saving characters will just result in them silently in the background) but there’s so little of these minor, role-playing decisions that it doesn’t matter anyway.

3

The linear plot itself is pretty decent, featuring some returning characters from season 1 and an exhilarating final episode climax.

The artwork is quite nice, as mentioned previously it’s dark and gloomy but it suits the story. This is definitely a cinematic experience, so I would recommend playing it on a big screen. Season 1 was pretty good on the small Vita screen, but season 2 wasn’t as good on the small screen. I would recommend a console purchase for the full experience.

The sound was decent, the highlight of course being the songs that play during the credits of each episode. There’s nothing really special about the in-episode sound though, but given this is a dialogue-heavy game I don’t expect much from the music anyway.

2

The biggest failure of this game was its lack of optimisation. It was occasionally slow and had some bugs; for instance at one point the dialogue for a scene played while the scene was still loading and then I had to watch the scene in silence. Episode 3 also crashed to the home screen at one point, which was a little upsetting but fortunately I was able to load from the most recent scene. I can’t comment on the other platforms, but I would recommend avoiding the PS Vita version, as it is, out of the platforms I’ve played Telltale games on, the least optimised.

So let’s some up what we have here: a good plot, decent storytelling, good gameplay, and good graphics. What we have here is a good game, but unfortunately one that just falls shy of the great and amazing games I am used to from Telltale. I give The Walking Dead: Season 2 a 3.5/5 objectively and a 3.5/5 subjectively.

Positives

+ Good Plot

+ Good Graphics

7/10

Negatives

– Decisions not as good as expected from Telltale

– Bugs and other optimisation issues

 

It’s the 80s – Hotline Miami Review

Name: Hotline Miami

Available on: PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS Vita

Reviewed on: PS Vita

 

Hotline Miami is one of those games where there’s little-to-no story, the controls are fairly basic, and the graphics aren’t realistic – but it manages to be more fun that perhaps most games that feature even just one of those mechanics.

Hotline Miami is a very violent game. Not violent as in ‘a bit of blood here and there’, violent as in you’ll be punching people’s heads off, shooting people, choking people, and even drilling holes in people. This game, while not realistic in many ways, is not for the faint of heart.

Hotline Miami is a top-down beat-em-up type game that progresses through a set of linear missions, which must be unlocked in order.

One day, the unnamed playable character wakes up in a basement, where after a quick tutorial in how to kill people through a variety of methods, the character walks upstairs to a room with three masked men who promptly launch into a cryptic set of messages, before the actual game begins. Each mission plays out with the character receiving a phone call, driving to a location, and killing a whole bunch of henchmen. Each level takes place in a building with many floors, so the character will make their way up each floor until they eventually kill every man in the building. After the character accomplishes this, they walk all the way through the floors of the building, past all the piles of bodies of the men he’s killed, reaches the entrance, hops in his car, and then goes an completes a mundane task, like buying groceries, renting a movie, or going to the local disco to get his groove on – this is (presumably) the 80s after all. These tasks help reiterate how strange the whole set of events is, and even allows some sort of story progression (which is very minimal and I never really followed what was happening – or even why it was happening).

Gameplay is very simple – there is one ‘action’ button that will make you use whatever you’re holding: fists will punch, baseball bats will swing, and guns will fire, all with the press of this one button – it’s very easy to use, especially since the only other controls are moving and controlling the cursor. Whenever you kill or knock out an enemy, they drop their weapon. This is useful for many reasons, namely because the character can only carry one weapon at a time – so if you run out of ammo and need a melee weapon, or you have a melee weapon and want a gun, you’ll need to find whatever enemy has the weapon you’re after. Additionally, the AI in this game will react in many ways to different weapons: if they hear gunshots, they’ll come running. If they see you through a window holding a knife, they’ll shoot you/run at you. This can be used to an advantage to quickly exterminate all the enemies on a floor – a tactic of mine was a gunshot followed by picking up the knife and holding down the ‘action’ button to melee very fast, and then moving close to the door and killing all the enemies very quickly.

It’s little additions like these that make the game that much more stylised and interesting to play through. The other addition that makes the game unique on every playthrough (I played the campaign twice) is the feature of one hit kills for not just you, but your enemies as well (save for the few bosses). Once you die, you start from the start of the floor you were killed on – so sometimes I’d get through almost the entire floor of enemies and then die at the hands of the last one. There are little moments like these in Hotline Miami that just make the game that much more intense, and if you survive, rewarding.

The game also has several collectables; which are masks and puzzle pieces. Masks are masks that your character wears to do their job, all of which save for the starting mask add a perk to the game – one allows you to start with a knife, one gives you another life (but only if you get hit by a gunshot) and another allows for even more gore. There’s a mix of cosmetic masks (like the gore one) and gameplay ones (such as the knife one), which is good. Most masks are unlocked simply through progressing the story, but there are others that must be specifically found in a particular level. The other collectable, puzzle pieces, are found throughout all the levels, and are represented by a small purple square. Collecting these will give a letter, which is used to spell out a sentence. This is used in one of Hotline Miami’s two endings: either the standard one with little info (but still finishing the story) or the ‘complete’ ending, which gives a lot more information (but still doesn’t really make the story any clearer).

I only really have two gripes with this game, and funnily enough they’re almost contradictory: one regards how easy the game is, and the other how hard it is. My first issue is how overpowered some of the weapons are: the knife especially. I found that I was able to pretty much use just knife to kill everyone on a floor, and once I got the mask that let me start with a knife, that was the only mask I used. My other issue is that some parts of the game are incredibly difficult – the difficulty scaling in this game is crazy, it’ll be flowing at one point and then be incredibly difficult the next – I had to use a walkthrough to figure out how to do some parts, and at other parts I only survived thanks to a fluke. Fortunately, there’s only really three parts in the whole game that I remember as being incredibly difficult, and once you realise how to complete them they become so much easier.

Length-wise, there’s about 20 story missions here, and none of them take that long to complete – it’d be possible to finish the game in one sitting of about 3 hours I reckon, but otherwise it doesn’t take that long to complete. There is replay value in the masks and the puzzle pieces/complete ending though.

While there are a few issues regarding the difficult of the game, that doesn’t change how much pure, simple fun Hotline Miami is. It’s simple, intense, and just absolute brilliant.

Positive

  • Great Fun
  • Simple Art Style
  • Simple Gameplay
  • Great Design Elements (such as the one-hit kills)
  • Replay Value (masks and puzzle pieces)

8.5.fw

 

2014.fw

 

Negative

  • Weak Storyline
  • A Few Overpowered Weapons
  • A Few Very Difficult Sections

Gamesland News: 01.11.13 – 08.11.13

Live from Gamesland, it’s time for another news update!

News

– Nintendo has officially stopped production of the Wii. The Wii had sold 100 million copies since 2006, making it the fifth best-selling console ever, and the best-selling of the latest generation (so far). The Wii was revolutionary in establishing motion controls, and was an extremely popular home console.

– The Wii Mini has officially become available to purchase in the United States. The Wii Mini is a cheaper, smaller version of the Wii, costs $100, and comes with a wiimote, nunchuck, and Mario Kart Wii. It is compatible with 1400 Wii games, but is only able to play them, and will not be able to access the Internet or e-shop. Nintendo, if this thing ever comes to Australia, I might just buy it…If only to play the Nintendo exclusive games of the last generation.

– Nvidia has announced its newest graphics card, the GeForce GTX 780Ti, supposedly the “best GPU on the planet” (according to Nvidia)

– The 2DS can actually fit in your pocket! This Video from gaming website Kotaku has a nice review, with proof that it fits in your pocket (barely).

– All the next generation hype is here, with the PS4 releasing on the 15th in the US (29th in Europe or Australia) and the Xbox One being released on the 22nd. Which one will you be getting?

 

What I’m Playing

– Pokémon X arrived, so I’ve been playing that. Really like what I’ve seen so far, been working on getting a good team (so much fun to one-hit KO someone because of a type advantage)

– That’s it (I know. It’s disappointing)

 

Tune in next Friday (15.11.13…Conveniently the day the PS4 releases, so I understand if you guys are too busy playing your new console) for more news from the land of gaming!

Gamesland News: 25.10.13 – 01.11.13

Well, guys, I hope you had a great week. Some new games were released, namely Batman: Arkham Origins and Battlefield 4, so if you’re playing them, I hope you enjoy them!

News
– Indie games developer Halfbrick (Jetpack Joyride, Fruit Ninja) was announced as mobile developer of the year in Australia.
– It had been confirmed that Call of Duty: Ghosts will run at 720p on the Xbox One, however it has been stated by a Microsoft representative that it will still look good upscaled to 1080p. Comparison videos appear to show not much difference.
– Also in Xbox One news, the Kinect will share you’re data with Microsoft, but only if you’re playing online, and only a stick figure version of yourself will be sent to Microsoft. You will not be able to be recognised by the stick figure diagram, and the data will be deleted after they have analysed it. Voice Chat, however, will be able to be heard by anyone.
Titanfall will be a Microsoft (Xbox One and PC) exclusive, and will not be coming to PS4. Titanfall 2 might be, though.
– Nintendo announced a new Pokémon game, in which Pikachu will have a big role. Apparently, it’s a detective style game.
– Nintendo also announced that The Legend of Zelda and Pikmin will be getting a cartoon on the 3DS video software.
Nintendo Letter Box (or Swapnote) has been cancelled after ot was tevealed that certain people were sending inapporpriate content.

What I’m Playing
Tomb Raider, Mass Effect, and Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure (I’ll explain later).
– My Pokémon X game has not arrived yet. Grrrr.

Questions? Feedback?
– Leave them in the comments and I’ll post a reply.

Tune in next Friday (8.11.13) for more news from the land of Gaming.