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

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

News
– There’s a June Xbox One update coming which will, among other things, allow external hard drives to be used.
– Zenimax is filing a lawsuit against Oculus, claiming that John Carmack gave away Zenimax ( John Carmack worked at id software, a subsidary of Zenimax) secrets to the Oculus team, allowing them to make it a reality.
Minecraft is coming to the Xbox One, PS4 and PS Vita in August this year, with the PlayStation games featuring cross-buy.
Discussion
– I saw Frozen on the weekend, and it’s great, even if I thought the story was a little lacking. It’s only flaw is that now I’m humming “Do you want to build a snowman?” all day long.

That’s all the news for this week, but come back next Friday (30.5.14) for more news from the Land of Gaming!

THIS IS DREADZONE! Ratchet Gladiator: HD Review

“You can’t read that book!”

“Why not? I could read it last time!”

“That’s the problem – you’ve changed since you read the book. The experience will never be the same”.

 

That exchange, or something similar, from The Neverending Story 2 raises a good point – you are not the same person, so when you try redoing something, it will not be the same. That was my experience when playing Ratchet: Gladiator HD on the PS3.

 

Game: Ratchet: Gladiator HD (known as Ratchet: Deadlocked HD in the states)

Price: 21.99 AUD

Platform: PSN, original on PS2

 

I first played Ratchet: Gladiator on the PS2, and it was (and probably still is) my favourite Ratchet and Clank title. It was also the first console game I finished. I thought this game was great, and if you asked me to review it back then I probably would’ve given it a 10. How times, and ourselves, change.

 

Ratchet: Gladiator is just one of those games which a fan of the series will love or hate. Some people consider it an awful title not worthy of being in the series, whereas others, such as myself, love it and consider it the best. It is the black sheep of the Ratchet and Clank family; exchanging platforming and puzzles for challenges and arena battles seen in Locked and Loaded (Going Commando) or Up your Arsenal. It’s very different, and perhaps this is why it’s either loved or hated.

 

Note that this game is a direct sequel to Up your Arsenal, and as such contains spoilers for the ending of that game. We’re not going to spoil it here, but if you do go buy the game, you have been warned.

 

After the events if the third game, Ratchet is contacted and warned about how heroes have been kidnapped for something called “Dreadzone”, a gladiatorial style of battle broadcasted live on TV. Ratchet is warned that he could be next, and sure enough, he’s kidnapped and transported to the Dreadzone facility, where he dons a gladiatorial suit and is forced to compete. From here the story develops, with several twists and turns, until its epic, thrilling climax. This game has one of the greatest stories ever told in gaming media, and I’ll explain why a bit later.

 

The style of play in Gladiator switches between arena battles and more open planet levels. The arena battles feature waves of enemies and occasional platforming sections, while the planet levels feature around five or so levels, or challenges, all of which are unique and are often suited to the planet they take place on.

 

Some of these levels feature vehicles, which are brilliant. There is the landstalker, a crab-like or spider-like vehicle which features E.M.P missile (or something like that – it’s difficult to tell sometimes what weapons fire in the Ratchet and Clank universe). There’s also a flying hovercraft, which fires several smaller missiles, and a hover-bike, which is just as cool as it sounds. The final vehicle is the puma, a four-wheeled vehicle with a single, damaging, blast missile. The vehicles all handle really well, and exactly like they should: the hover-bike is speedy, the landstalker is slow and tank-like, and the puma is speedy, while still packing serious firepower. The Hovercraft can be difficult to get used to, as it uses L2 and R2 (the bottom trigger buttons, in case you’re unfamiliar with the PlayStation layout) to control height, with one making it go up and one making it go down, but once you get the hang of it, it is very fluid and works just as well as all the other vehicles.

 

The weapons are brilliant and crazy at the same time, which is a must-have for all Ratchet and Clank games. There’s a medieval mace weapon, a mine-launcher, a shotgun, and all other sorts, but this game all edits them to fit into the universe, and it works. This game takes weapons to the next level, with each weapon being able to level up to a level cap of ten, where it becomes crazily good. In addition to this, you can change the weapons with mods, which alter the weapons and can perform additional damage, such as the acid mod, which does additional damage once the weapon hits. Unfortunately, I found myself only using the first weapon, the Dual Vipers, although, that is admittedly what I did on the PS2 version. In addition to this, you have 2 bots at your command, which can be upgraded. Although they don’t do much damage, it’s a nice thought, but it could have been implemented better.

 

There are several things to critique about this game, however. First thing: the frame rate. The frame rate in this game drops to very low levels when there are over 6 enemies on the screen, which doesn’t happen often (enemies attack more in a wave format than all at once) and usually only happened when large amounts of enemies spawned – as opposed to ones that load with the level. This didn’t happen at all on the PS2 version, so it’s a little weird to see it occurring here. The game’s cutscenes are also weird; half of them have been redone in HD; the other half haven’t. I think the developers should have made all of them HD, as opposed to just half. It would just make the game all that more coherent. In addition to this, I found the battles slightly boring, but I was playing on the easiest difficulty. Playing on a harder difficulty is the way to go for this game, but it is nice to see that the game is easy enough on a lower difficulty for younger gamers; something some developers miss these days.

 

Although the game has these flaws, its story is brilliant. It’s almost worth paying the $22 just for the story. The story is simple enough for someone young to understand, but the story is also deep enough for experienced gamers to understand. It’s a story about manipulation, an unlikely hero, the corruption of the media and other such themes. In addition, it deals with reality TV. People watched Gladiator battles in ancient Rome for entertainment, what’s to stop TV stations today doing the same thing, just with Reality TV? The Declaration of Human Rights, that’s what, but if an apocalypse or something similar happens, then what is to stop them?

 

The game also features local co-op, which I unfortunately didn’t get to try out, but I remember it being good fun on the PS2, and online multiplayer, which I couldn’t try out either, because no-one was playing during the times I checked. The modes sound like good fun though, with modes similar to Capture the Flag and Deathmatches, as well as original modes just for the game. It could be a good purchase just for the online multiplayer with friends, but as I haven’t played it I’m unable to comment.

All in all, Ratchet and Clank is a very good title, but unfortunately just lacks some of those things which make a great game amazing, and for that reason I find myself not looking back at it that fondly – but fortunately, the memory of the PS2 version, which in my mind is still fast paced and brilliant, lives on.

 

Positive

 – Wacky Weapons

– Crazy Vehicles

– Great character + weapon levelling up

– Amazing Story

– Nice HD Graphics

Negative

 – Noticeable framerate drops

– Easiest mode is very easy, so play on a higher difficulty

– Short

– Several cutscenes not in HD

Gamesland News: 03.01.14 – 10.01.14

News
– Sony announced it’s streaming service, Playstation Now, which will enable PlayStation One, PlayStation Two, and PlayStation Three games on the PS4 and even the PS Vita. The service was mentioned when Sony aquired Gaiki, and has only been announced for the USA. It will require a 5 Megabits (Mb) per second internet requirement, and not the 5 Megabytes (MB) per second as aome sites have reported.
– Valve is currently working on a Virtual Reality headset to work with every Steam Machine.
– Many Steam Machines were announced at this year’s Consumer’s Electronic’s Show (CES), with all different specs and prices. This has led many to question whether certain Steam Machines will be able to support all the games on Steam.
– A certain page on Bethseda’s website hinted at a next-gen remake of The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, but this was later revealed to simply be a bug in the website while they were testing things out.
– With Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on Steam, many users downloaded it, but reported that the game does not work in Steam’s offline mode.
– The numbers are in, and while Microsoft sold an impressive 3 million consoles over the holiday break, Sony managed to best that number, announcing that they had sold a very impressive 4.2 million over the break.
– Nintendo both won and lost a lawsuit this week. They won the battle that InterAction Laboratories put against them when they stated that Nintendo infringed on their patents with Wii Fit. IA Labs was unable to complayeky payoff the debt, and so Nintendo seized some of their patents to compensate. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been declared guilty of infringing on a different company’s patent, Tomita, who claimed Nintendo stole their sterostopic 3D display technology, which has been used in the 3DS. Nintendo was going to have to pay 30.2 million dollars to Tomita, but that number was halved to about 15 million due to some aspects of the technology, such as the cameras, not being an integral part of the 3DS. In addition to this, Nintendo must now pay 1.82% of the system’s wholesale price to Tomita. The 2DS may have been nintendo’s answer to this, as it does not feature any 3D features.

What I’m Playing
– I got a Vita as a late Christmas present, so I’ve been playing many games on that. I also downloaded Star Wars Battlefront II off the PSN store today, so I’ve been playing that. I also have other reviews coming soon, I plan on posting them the next few days (I haven’t had internet these past few days).

Questions?
Leave a question in the comments and I’ll reply to it!

Check back next Friday (17.01.14) for more news from the Land of Gaming!

Reach for the Stars – Disney Infinity Review

Image

Reviewed On: PS3

When I realise what Disney Infinity was, I was sceptic. I was afraid it was going to be a shameless cash-in, like Skylanders, with no real storyline, with the main gameplay being collecting real-life toys with no real value. How wrong I was.

The starter pack comes with three figures, three storylines, and a power disc. The characters are quite detailed, and look exactly how they look in the game. It’s obvious that a lot of detail has gone into making these characters, and it shows. When comparing my three Skylanders figures to the Disney Infinity characters, the Disney Infinity characters had a lot more weight, and it was clear a bit more thought had gone into the bases of the characters. Jack Sparrow, for instance, has wooden planks underneath his feat, Mr Incredible has a cracked road beneath his feat, and Sully has a footpath underneath his.

When you actually start the game up, it has the best introduction/tutorial level I’ve ever seen. I’m not even going to spoil it, that’s how good it was. You’re then plonked into the toybox’s default level, and there are good times to be had there, such as slow speed chases on the car track. Also in the toybox, you’re able to use tokens you earn when you level up characters in-game to unlock new toys, and there’s a lot of them, but it’s great when you finally get that toy you want. From the menu, you can choose a level to play, and I played the Pirates of the Caribbean story first.

The Pirates of the Caribbean campaign revolves around travelling around to different islands collecting pieces of “The Kraken’s Bane”, because Davy Jones has summoned the Kraken yet again. So you buy a ship, and get to travel to all these different islands, obtaining treasure as you go. I was surprised at how all these campaigns are really mini open worlds in themselves, it really gives you a lot of freedom, and you can abandon the campaign if you wish and do the side-missions, but that’s not how the game is meant to be played, and the campaign is good in itself. You’re also able to customise your ship to your liking, using parts from different ships. You can also buy new canons from the store, but these only affect the deck canons, not the canons that you can fire while commandeering the ship, which was disappointing. You’re also able to buy special powers for your ship, such as shields or speed boosts, which activate for a limited time. We found a few problems, however, the most frustrating being knocked down buy a bomb blast. The enemies that have the bombs can fire them at you, even when your on the ground from a previous bomb blast. It led to some frustrating deaths.

 

The Incredibles campaign involves Mr Incredible (or any other Incredible figurine) having to capture three new villains, plus Syndrome from the movie, who are running around causing havoc on the Incredible’s island city. The campaign features several returning characters from the film, such as Edna, the costume designer, and the extremely annoying   Omnidroids. there’s also several cars to buy, several gadgets to buy, special moves to learn, and, like the Pirate ship in the Pirates campaign, you can customise your “secret” base, which isn’t so secret anymore because it’s right in the middle of a roundabout, and people drive past it all the time. But we found that some of the missions weren’t explained properly, and this led to some frustration, especially when I thought that I was stuck on a deserted island.

The Monsters University was a campaign bizarre to me, because I hadn’t seen the movie. I still managed to have an enjoyable time, though, and there’s a few stealth levels here that are really fun, as you get to sneak up on the enemy, scare them, then go throw some fireworks through a window. We found a few problems though, such as the tutorial missions weren’t explained properly. I had to experiment with the buttons on the controller to find one the one that was required, and that’s just not fun.

I should mention a few general things. Firstly, you can’t play local co-op straight out of the box. You have to buy additional characters for that. I was able to test some features of the co-op with my sister, however, and it’s fun working out puzzles together. Secondly, no characters can go into any world, except the toybox, that in’t their own. This is why you can’t do co-op straight away, because all the characters in the starter pack all come from different worlds. It’s good to see, though, that Disney’s released two things to compensate for this: A supporting characters pack, which has three complementing characters to the starter pack ones, and all the additional playsets come with two characters. Thirdly, there was a problem connecting to the PSN network, so I wasn’t able to test out the online features of the game. Fourthly, all the campaigns would probably take between 5-6 hours to complete fully (with all the side missions). This means that there’s about 15-18 hours of play in the starter pack, plus how much time you spend in the toybox, playing other people’s worlds, or building your own.

All in all, Disney Infinity is a great game. Even though all the campaigns have their own individual flaws, the rest of the game is so spectacular, those small flaws are forgiven. I would happily buy all the playsets for this game (not all the characters though), and if there is going to be a Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Marvel playset, I would happily buy all the characters for those three franchises.

9.fw

 

2013.fw