All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #3: Review

This is part 3 of my quest to read and review every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man from start to finish, the first two issues were hit and miss, but this time we’re introduced to a really famous foe.


The Amazing Spider-Man #3

In the first couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, we’ve really seen Peter Parker take shape from a slightly goofy, classic nerd archetype to more of the wise-cracking, down trodden hero we’ve come to know and love. Issue 3 actually takes a lot of the ideas Stan Lee and Steve Ditko have been working through, and puts them together into the first really great book of the run. It’s probably as good as anything we’ll see for the next few years too, and most of this success is down to Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man fights crime

As the book opens we find a more confident Spider-Man taking down cheap thugs with ease. In keeping with Parker’s penchant for bringing his biggest problems down on himself, he starts to wish he could actually go up against a villain with a bit more oomph, which kicks off Doc’ Ock’s origin story.

He’s pretty complete here too; a brilliant scientist who conducts research on nuclear power with the aid of four robotic arms, he goes mad after an accident damages his brain and fuses the arms to his body. He becomes fixated on using his new appendages to finish his research, holding a hospital full of staff hostage while he does it.

Otto Octavius is a goofy concept for a character but he’s pure gold here. They enjoy the fun of the character completely, but there’s a sadness to him too; his brilliance is completely destroyed by his madness and power but he still isn’t driven by greed or self interest. He wants to complete his work. Spidey doesn’t fall short in the drama too, and after getting soundly thrashed by Octavius the first time they fight, we see the first of Peter Parker’s many doubting moments. He’s convinced he can’t defeat Doctor Octopus, until Johnny Storm gives a pep talk to the local school and Peter decides to get back on the horse. We also see a little of the classic Parker genius, as he synthesises a new chemical to help him out by fusing Doc’ Ock’s arms together. It doesn’t go quite to plan, but he’s already using that scientific genius to get the job done.

Doc Ock and Spider-Man's first fight

The story is full of tropes we’d revisit in this book for years to come, but it pulls it off so earnestly here it’s hard not to like it. Peter’s on-again, off-again, love affair with his crimefighting career begins here, but we also believe his pain. He really hasn’t fought a villain like this before, and when he loses there’s nobody he can turn to for support. Octavius himself is something new for the book too. Sure, after the accident he gets a little cliche, but there’s never any question of his brilliance, or his capabilities. The Vulture, the Tinkerer, and The Chameleon were all great villains, but they were usually brought down by some failing or underestimating of the hero. Doctor Octopus isn’t like that, he’s a passionate scientist and a strategic thinker. He isn’t beaten until Spider-Man ups his game.

Peter’s personal life takes a back seat here again, although we do see some more of Jameson and Aunt May. The cast of supporting characters is being reinforced bit by bit, but the book is definitely taking a back seat to the villains. It’s rare to see an early run of a book so full of familiar faces, with every major villain faced so far still a player in the current Marvel universe.  This is a good era for the company, and it’s not hard to see why. They really set up a tone and stuck to it. No wonder forty years later, Sam Raimi didn’t see the need to change much.

Peter Parker inspired by Human Torch's speech

Probably my favourite feature of these early books is Spider-Man as the growing hero. This isn’t a perfect, generic, costumed avenger archetype. It’s a character who is new to the job, knows he isn’t one of the big fish yet, and makes mistakes. He beats The Human Torch to the punch in the story, but he makes it clear he’s still a minor player compared to the Fantastic Four, and that’s something that will stick with Spider-Man as the years go by. It’s something DC have got wrong over and over with Batman, insisting that because he’s a major player on store shelves, he needs to be a top-dog in the DCU continuity too, and it’s so much less interesting than a character who’s popular in fiction, but less well liked in his own reality.

These books continue to be fantastic, and hopefully it’s as good next time when we meet The Sandman!

Why I Bought Vanilla Destiny, and Why I Don’t Regret it.

I was never really sold on Destiny.

It’s a personal thing, I guess; I never loved online shooters. I play ’em today, sure, Battlefront, Overwatch… Destiny, but it’s a pretty recent development. Online games only started to resonate with me when they adopted more narrative and structural elements the modes fresh, and I was pretty behind the times. I can play a few rounds of Deathmatch but it was only Battlefront’s Walker Assault mode last year that sold me on the concept. (Say what you like about the lack of a campaign but when those AT-ATs drop, you really feel the Star Wars.) Overwatch does the same, putting gameplay front and centre but building narrative into the environment; multiplayer shooters really upped their game while I wasn’t looking.

Destiny Moon Horizon

When it launched most folks kept describing Destiny was “an MMO… sort of.” So I skipped it; as time went on however, it never fully fell off my radar. The game was starting to sound pretty good too, my buddy (and podcast co-host) Jon would entice me with stories of a complex but subtly told narrative, story based events and online matches seamlessly integrated into an MMO style structure, and shooting that was somewhere between Halo and Borderlands.

I wanted in, but I hit my next hurdle.

By the time I was really interested, The Taken King expansion was out; it looked great, but the changes it made to the game were considered sweeping and transformative. Word was it just wasn’t worth getting the game without it, and bundles including The Taken King replaced the main game on the PSN store; the price went back to a full RRP game. Used copies were cheaper, of course, but I’d still be without the DLC and the word was The Taken King updates had actually taken the radical step of removing content from vanilla players all together. I was stuck.

I’d like to remind you of something you don’t see in gaming press that often. Games are expensive, often unreasonably so. I have my channel, my podcast, and my blog; I play a lot of games, but I’m not an industry insider. I buy the vast majority of my games, and I’m living on a youtuber’s budget. Truth is, DLC or otherwise, I couldn’t jump in on the budget The Taken King wanted. I skipped it, and as they have continued releasing expansions regularly enough to keep a bundle on the store at new-game price, Destiny’s business model has kept me from ever being able to buy the game in the form they want me to. As much as I was interested, I can’t justify paying £60 for a game I might not like.

The Tower in Destiny

So I went to a used game store and bought a vanilla disc for £5. I figured DLC be damned, the tiny demo was long gone from the store, and whatever content was still there would give me something to go it. It was one of the best gaming decisions I ever made. If you haven’t played it, I think you should do the same.

I like Destiny. I don’t know how much I’d be liking it if I paid full price, but I’m enjoying the base game immensely. In fact, it might be the most fun I’ve had with a multiplayer game in years, and I’m playing it completely solo, totally out of date, and happily from my DLC free disc. This isn’t going to be a path that would work for everybody, if you’re primarily in it for the multiplayer you’ll be disappointed. Most other players are higher level than me, and I’m locked out of a good two thirds of the content, but what I can do is play through the same story new players did back in the day, and get a feel for it without putting down a huge sum of money. I can still jump in with other players if I want to, and despite the fact that the DLC I’m locked off from is right there on the map, I don’t feel like I’m getting a crippled experience. I’m playing through a lot of the early missions again with a friend now, and we”re both experience the same surprised satisfaction. Destiny’s standalone disc is dirt cheap because they’ve done such a great job sell the DLC that nobody wants it, and yet there’s a full fat, big budget game in here that is still perfectly playable.

I still have issues with Destiny, I think the pricing model creates a situation where new players and old players both lose, I think the removal of content people paid for through updates is pretty crummy, and I think the hyping up of the DLC as essential (to the point of removing cheaper, older, base copies from sale) is quite misleading, but this is the surrounding business and doesn’t change the fact that the original package is actually great.

If I were putting the game out, at this point I’d probably just make the vanilla game free and get new players on board. As cheap as  used copies are, it couldn’t hurt, and the model works. I’m already seriously considering the DLC some time in the new year, and I’m a lot more positive about Destiny 2.

 

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #2: Review

Welcome to All Amazing, a series in which I review every issue of Marvel’s flagship title, The Amazing Spider-Man. Last time Spidey was all about the cash, today he does some real heroics both in and out of a sewer. 


The Amazing Spider-Man #2

Issue 2 of any book is a difficult task, you need to keep the momentum going from Issue 1 while offering something new to keep the readers hooked. Amazing #2 does a pretty good job of balancing out some of Issue #1’s weaknesses, while contributing two pretty significant villains to the Marvel universe, but the tone is still very episodic and comedic. Today this would be a parody comic, and yet it really feels pretty true to Spider-Man as he’ll go on. I think this is a stronger start than Issue #1, but it’s pretty goofy at times…

The Amazing Spider-Man Issue 2As before, the book is divided into two stories, with the first introducing readers to The Vulture. Here the character is a lot simpler than he’ll become, and he’s mostly played for laughs. A comical, bird themed thief who taunts the police with his intended target before swooping in and stealing the goods from underneath their noses. There’s something genuinely amusing in the sheer joy the old man takes from just being a good thief. At one point he tricks the police by popping up from the sewers instead of down from the sky, and then flies off down a particularly large sewer pipe to make his escape. The entire time he seems just thrilled to be the Vulture. I miss villains like this.Spider-Man Vulture sewers

 

It’s also fun to see Spidey go up against an actual super villain for the first time. This issue kicks Peter Parker off on his photojournalism career, and while trying to get the perfect shot of the crook, he gets roped in to some real heroics. He’s also developing more of the sense of humour and chatterbox nature we’ll come to know. It’s nice to see that Peter is still a new hero here too, who is still learning how to fit his life and crime fighting career together. When his first run-in doesn’t go quite to plan, he takes time to rethink his approach and really nail the complexities of being a photographer and superhero at the same time.

Despite the Vulture, the second story is actually the goofier of the two, and introduces perhaps the weirdest origin story to an established character. While picking up a clock from a very cheap repair store, Peter is introduced to The Tinkerer, a modest little man who just happens to set off his spider-sense. Later he figures out that The Tinkerer has been hiding cameras in the clocks to spy on crucial targets around the city. He goes to confront the inventor, only to find that The Tinkerer is an alien spy who’s planning on taking over the world. He beats the crap out of them and they leave in their spaceship, and for some reason decide never to return.

Amazing spider-Man issue 2 Tinkerer

This is such a goofy plot and even when it’s obviously hamming it up it never quite works. The Tinkerer has become such a mainstay in the Marvel universe, and I’m sure the origin has been retconned today, but his first appearance as a little green man from space was totally absurd. Worse still, Spider-Man spends quite some time in this story trapped in giant snowglobe, masterminding an escape so specific and convenient that those Adam West Batman gags start to seem a whole lot more accurate.

I was also pretty intrigued by how undeveloped the Spider-Sense is here, it responds less to danger and more to general paranoia and ‘whatever-Peter-needs-to-know-right-now’ moments. It’s pretty early for the character so some development is to be expected, but it’s occasionally a little too convenient here.

Special mention goes to the first example I could find of Spider-Man actually making a joke. It was terrible.

Issue 2 escape from aliens

Final Thoughts

All in all, Issue #2 is stronger than the first. We still see a lot of Peter’s personal life, but he gets the chance to really be a hero here. The tone is still pure comedy, but the art is fun and nostalgia carries you through.  The second story looks great, but not once does the Vulture look threatening or exciting. Still, the classic characters are coming fast and thick, and it’s pretty much the Spider-Man we know and love already. Next week, Doctor Octopus!

VR Works, and I’m as surprised as anyone about that.

PSVR Shark AttackBefore I bought my Playstation VR I had one burning question about the tech l that I just couldn’t find an answer to. I’d scour reviews, watch play throughs, read previews, everything, but they were really sparse on details relating to my specific question…

Does VR Really Work?

The problem is this means a different things to different people. Does the 3D look real? Is the head tracking responsive? Are the games fun? All little pieces of the experience that come together for the final effect. What I wanted to know was more than that. I wanted to know if the fundamental promise of VR, that you will feel like you’re actually their in the game, was hype or reality.

This is a claim I’ve been skeptical of since 3D TV spectacularly failed to impress me and flopped completely in the games market, but the hype has been very similar. You will feel like the game is really there in the living room with you. With 3D I didn’t, and so I put off diving in to the VR for the longest time because of that. I even made a little video about why I was pretty sure VR wasn’t going to be the next big thing, citing the discomfort and artifice of 3D displays as a major concern. I still stand by a lot I said in that video, VR is expensive and cumbersome and won’t be replacing the TV any time soon.

The big question still remained, however. In ideal circumstances, if you could afford one of the damn things and fired up the right game, were the promises true? It seemed the only way to find out was to actually try one out myself. (And since I refuse to pay GAME just to demo a unit, there was only one way to get my hands on one.) I scoured my shelves for long unplayed games and took a wheelbarrow of old discs down to my local Trade-In store and exchanged it all for a PSVR headset.

 

And I’m so glad I did.

If you’re like me, and you found the same questions so completely unanswered by the press coverage of VR, let me help you out. The basic promise of VR is, at least by this headset, fulfilled. When the game is right and the headset is set up correctly you genuinely feel like you exist inside the game. It is effective, exciting, and one of the first genuinely new developments in how games are played for years.

PSVR London Heist GameI don’t want to get too carried away here, VR still has a lot of hurdles for the typical consumer. The resolution is low, the headset are bulky, the cables are a pain; it’ll all work much better when they become wireless, but right now it’s crazy how well the tech works on limited technology. Results vary from game to game. Invasion, a short cartoon in VR, was the first piece of software I booted up and when the credits rolled I was already contemplating packing the bits up and taking it back to the store. Interaction was limited to little more than 360 degree video with 3D effects and I never once felt like I was really there. However the more games I played, the more other games blew that experience out of the water just by adding to the immersion in small ways.

PSVR London Heist GameBoth the Playstation VR Worlds disc and Sony’s packed in Demo disc do a fantastic job with this, featuring menus that place you in 3D space, capable of looking up and down, leaning in around the items you see in front of you, but more importantly they show virtual PS4 controllers that respond to your touch. The PSVR can use basic PS4 controllers for most interaction, and can track them really accurately via the lightbar on the front. This means the virtual controller turns and tilts just like the real one in your hand. This was the last push my brain needed to really believe I was what I was seeing. I had no hands, my mind quickly acknowledged and understood that they were totally invisible now, but my actions, the results of my physical behaviour were rendered there on screen perfectly. This, combined with the 3D and head tracking, seemed to be all my brain needed to calibrate for VR and buy the illusion completely.

The PSVR isn’t very high resolution, or even the most cutting edge VR tech on the market, and yet this simple combination of sensory illusions took me into the game completely. By the time I dropped into my first lengthy experience, Ocean Descent, I was as convinced as I could be while still sat on my office chair.

I could talk at length about sensory tricks. I’d like to, because they’re fascinating. But I’m not going to, I’m going to review more PSVR software in depth in the future and I’d like to save the details for later. I’m not even going to tell you to rush out and buy a VR, because the financial investment, the nausea, the potential discomfort… these are issues that matter and you need to weigh them up on your own. What I can do is answer the question I couldn’t find a good answer to.

Does VR feel real? Yeah, it really does.

It’s fiddly and some games are better than others, but when it’s right, you feel like you’re really in the game.

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #1: Review

This is a new series where I read and review every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, starting way back with issue 1 in 1963!


I love Spider-Man. Ever since the 90s Animated Series, he’s been one of my favourite characters in jam packed Superhero genre. It was through Spidey that I started to really get into comics when Ultimate Spider-Man hit the shelves, and Spider-Man 2099 was my first experience diving into comics from the archives. Now I’m setting off on a project I’ve wanted to do for a really long time; I’m going to read all of The Amazing Spider-Man, from the very first issue in 1963. This won’t give me the whole story as Marvel launched, The Spectacular Spider-Man, in 1972, but I’m going to focus on just one except when the story requires picking up a few issues elsewhere.

So, let’s get started!

The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Comic buffs will know that this issue is not the first appearance of our beloved Wall Crawler, who launched in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy a few months earlier. While his success hadn’t been enough to save that book, Marvel did have enough faith in the character to give him a series of his own. Amazing #1 begins with a short recap of this origin, before fleshing out who Peter Parker is, and what his story is really about. The cover promises us a hero like no other, and it’s true… while this issue does give us a a classic villain, and a crossover with The Fantastic Four, really this is all about Parker’s money troubles.

Amazing Spider-Man 1It’s split into two stories, the first explores the birth of Spider-Man’s troubles with the press. To help Aunt May pay the bills he agrees to do a live show as Spider-Man, but has a little trouble getting paid. In one great little scene, he insists the promoter write him a cheque made out to “Spider-Man” and is then shocked when the bank won’t cash it. They say Peter Parker is a genius but I suppose everyone has their off days.

He returns the next day to find that Newspaper Editor named J Jonah Jamesonhas been trashing him all over town. Weirdly, Jameson doesn’t seem to think Spider-Man is a criminal at this point, he seems more concerned that kids might copy him and hurt themselves. This is apparently enough to send the city into an Anti-Spidey frenzy and he has to find money elsewhere. Even after he rescues Jameson’s son from certain death in a failed rocket launch, Jameson doesn’t seem interested in cutting Spidey a break. Some things never change.

The other story is the famous crossover from the cover, Spider-Man’s meeting with The Fantastic Four. This is a beat briefer than the cover implies, with the Richards clan basically shipped in to add a bit of credibility to the new character. Spider-Man invades their tower and promptly humiliates them all, insists on joining the Fantastic Four so he can get paid, and when they tell him they’re a non-profit organisation, leaves without even apologising for roughing them up. If you think Spider-Man seems a bit money hungry, later he meets The Chameleon who has deduced that Spider-Man must be hard up for cash, lures him into a really obvious trap by promising him some sweet green, and then frames him for espionage. Early Spider-Man is blinded by the kerching.

Amazing #1 is both refreshing, and bizarre. It’s actually nice to see Spider-Man so completely rendered on the page right from the first issue. Here’s a teenage boy with a life, problems, and all these responsibilities that weigh heavily on him. The kid really can’t catch a break, and he wonders exactly why he’s so different to all those other heroes who just live the easy life. The problem is that his humour isn’t quite there yet. That constant, charming, geeky sense of humour we associate with Spider-Man is nowhere to be seen in this issue, and so Spider-Man just comes off as sort of grumpy. Even the sight of Aunt May pawning in the bling isn’t enough to stop Spidey seeming a bit mercenary at times, and yet it’s so charming. It’s early days yet, but here Spider-Man reads more like a funny book than an action comic, and yet it works. The character and the series will grow from here, but it’s so close already.

The art is a little rough around the edges, it obviously comes from the cheap years, but it’s also pretty impressive how final Spidey’s design is here. The whole look is basically complete, with only the retro armpit webs looking a bit out of place. Parker doesn’t look so much like we’ll come to know him, but everything else is so solid. It’s a great start to a book that’s going to do so well from Marvel in the years to come. It’s hard not to read it with a bit of a cheeky grin about it all.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Amazing Spider-Man issue 1Uncle Ben’s death doesn’t quite play out as you’d expect. Here, there’s no indication he’s killed by a burglar Peter failed to stop earlier in the day. Peter just seems to blame himself for being too busy at the time. It doesn’t really work as a story, but they’ll really nail it down later.

No love interest. For a comic that was almost like a classic romance book during the late 60s, there’s no Felicia, no Gwen, no MJ. It’s weird to think of Peter Parker without romance, without family. It seems like such a big part of his character these days.

Spider-Man beats the entire Fantastic Four in his first solo issue. There’s lending credibility and then there’s humiliating your flagship characters.

In Conclusion

Amazing #1 is a lot of fun, the character’s almost fully formed right here, and the world Stan Lee is building won’t change much well into the 90s. Still, it’s a little weird to see Peter talking less about Power and Responsibility and more about those delicious, delicious Benjamins.

Call of Duty: World at War – Review – Xbox 360

Call of Duty: World at War holds the dubious honour of being the last in the series to be set during the Second World War. It is is remembered with fondness by those who still see Military Shooters as a historical genre, but forgotten by an audience that felt Modern Warfare catapulted the old war horse into a new league. Contemporary reviews spoke of a weary reluctance to return to fighting Nazis, and now the 360 version is playable on Xbox One, what better time is there to see how the game feels today.

Call of Duty

World at War is a game of two halves. It features a campaign of roughly ten hours, and a multiplayer mode that feels more like the star of the show. I am, at heart, a single player sort of guy so I started there. This was a mistake. World at War’s campaign eases you in to the game’s mechanics, but it soon outstays its welcome. It is divided into two locations, the first follows a squad of US troops as they fight in the Pacific campaign. It gets off to a good start, as you fight to escape the heart of Japanese controlled territory. These segments are filled with environments that you just don’t see in war games that often; swamps, fields of flowers, Eastern looking temples. It captures a look and feel that is evocative of the War, but feels fresh.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only strength. There is no narrative to speak of, no characters to get to know. Before and after each level, narration rolls out to tell you what you’re doing next, but it never feels like you’re playing a story where one event leads into another. Each mission is simply a cycle of break down this stronghold, destroy this target, repeat. This wouldn’t be so bad if the level design weren’t so frustrating, but much of the pacific campaign involves running through tunnels or bunkers, clearing hunkered troops, and moving on. Often enemies in these rooms will spawn infinitely in easily defensible posts and progression becomes a case of repeatedly running the same gauntlet until you get just far enough down the tunnel to trigger a checkpoint. I suppose it’s accurate to 20th century war to just throw enough young men at a problem until one side runs out, but I can’t say it’s much fun as a game. There’s no sense of progress to it, no thread running between each stage, it is simply a case of repeating the same types of encounter over and over until you win.

Call of Duty world at War

The European Campaign is much better. You play a Russian soldier who is wounded during of battle of Stalingrad. You are rescued and mentored by your commanding officer, Reznov, who guides you from the rubble of Stalingrad and eventually to Berlin. Here is where any and all story in the game seem to hide. It’s hardly Gone Home, but there’s real emotion to Reznov’s desire for revenge; his insistence that the Nazis suffer for Russia’s pain at Stalingrad. One memorable encounter sees you silently observe an argument between two officers, one who lived through Stalingrad and wants to make the Germans pay, another who was not there, and can not understand the other’s brutality. It was a genuine moment in sea of grey and featureless tedium, but it was enough to open up the European campaign in a deeper way.

The gameplay is better too. Dugouts are swapped from real buildings, open squares and city streets lay in ruins, while soldiers from both sides seem lost in the confusion. Everything about the European campaign is stronger but it still suffers from the same fundamental problems.

All satisfaction in the game comes from progressing to the next checkpoint, and when the game decides to throw the brakes on that progression, the gameplay isn’t satisfying enough to preserve the fun. It feels more like hammering nails. It’s fiddly, you hit your thumb a bit, and every so often you get a slight feeling of pride as one goes straight in to the wood. The difference is when you’re done hammering nails, you’re usually left with some tangible evidence of progress.

The shooting works well, particularly the old bolt-action rifles; they don’t cut through enemies quite like the automatics but are incredibly satisying. There’s an authenticity to the look and feel of everything which is to be expected of the series by this point, but is still one of the highlights. Getting shot is less fun, not simply because it knocks back an unreasonable chunk of progress each time, but because its often unavoidable, and unsolvable. You are dead now. You know you were probably shot, but from who or what direction isn’t so easy to find out. I’ll happily concede this might just be that I’m terrible at it, but there are a lot of games utilise frequent deaths and still come off feeling like a worthwhile experience. This isn’t one of them. Each death knocks you too far back, and the route between death rooms (those bits every 3-4 minutes where they decide to put all the enemies) aren’t fun enough to make it worth the time.

Call of duty Reznov

Worst of all are the grenades, which developer Treyarch would have you believe the Japanese used more often than bullets. I know the game wants you to feel surrounded, truly at war and under attack from all sides, but somewhere around the millionth grenade death it starts to feel a lot more like there’s no way avoid them. The only solution is to back off and let the squad take care of most of the work. Too often the game sent me scurrying away from the fight as the explosives landed, trotting back just in time to see another one hit my feet. Worse still, you’ll often be trapped in cover, your only choice being to run over the grenade and hope you clear it fast enough or just put your fingers in your ears and accept your fate. I know, I know, it’s war. Grenades happened like that in war. But war isn’t fun, and this is supposed to be.

By the end, it starts to make sense why Call of Duty fans prefer the multiplayer. Here the mechanics feels put to better use. The barrage of grenades stops, and instead you’re free to wreak havoc in open maps. If some of the environments in the game had felt as open, and as varied as the multiplayer maps do, it would have salvaged the experience for me. As it is, Multiplayer feels like the only section to receive extensive play testing. The game modes are all old standards but, the rank and perk system that started in its Call of Duty 4 is still a strong meta game that keeps you coming back for more. Call of Duty has had so many imitators in the multiplayer arena since Modern Warfare, it will very familiar to anyone who has played an online shooter in the last nine years , but it really is as solid and as fun as its reputation suggests. The gameplay is good, but seeing your XP tot up after a game and feeling that “just one more match” effect kick in leaves the player will feeling like they got their money’s worth.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the Zombies mode, which sits third on the menu like a bonus feature, but is probably the highlight of the package. In my entire time with World at War I spent more time with this mode than the rest put together. It’s a simple wave-mode shooter that tasks the player with picking of Undead Nazis before they break into your shelter, and yet in execution the balance and depth of it all is so solid that it deserves to be a game in its own right. It’s fitting that in the years since this released, Zombies has gone on to be one of the franchise’s main selling points.

In the end Call of Duty: World at War didn’t break the mould, but for this reviewer, it barely filled the mould. The gameplay works, this is a good engine and a good set of mechanics, refined through years of releases. But it works best in multiplayer where good maps and decent controls are all that matters. The campaign feels empty; hollow and lacking any kind of polish. It was difficult, but it was challenge without fun, just chugging away at the same rough spots ad nauseum. I was glad when the credits rolled, and I could go back to playing Zombies.

5/10

(The requirements I set myself for this review were a target of over 1000 words, and a retro-review style that acknowledged the review was being written some time after release.)

Slashy Hero – Review – PC / Mac

Reviewed on Mac, copy provided by publisher. 

Slashy Hero is a well made game, tarnished by its origins on mobile. It arrives on PC and Mac with gorgeous art, fun music, and some really clever gameplay, but is hobbled by its touchscreen centric design, and sloppy porting.

Slashy Hero Intro

The setup is brief, but cute. It’s Halloween; a possessed house has sucked up all the Trick or Treat candy. You must enter the Haunted Mansion and reclaim the stolen goods. Inside you’ll encounter a run of short stages, each culminating in a portal to zap you to the next. These are inhabited by various spooky themed baddies who must be taken down to collect the precious candy.

This is where things get tricky. To perform all attacks, the player has to draw a line on the screen across the enemies, once completed your character will rush the line, attacking anything in its path. These lines can be any shape, and can be used to dash traps or make quick escapes too. The problem is, neither mouse or controller work as well as a finger on a tablet would. While the game boasts full controller support, trying to draw a precise line with the right stick feels pretty awkward. Mouse is a little better, but it’s a constant reminder that you’re not playing the game as the developers intended. By the end it’s easier to drop clever sweeping lines and settle for just nudging the stick into foes like a glorified attack button.

Worse still are the bugs. The game frequently breaks, often quite dramatically. Getting killed is often enough to send you to the desktop. Upon death you can trade your candy for a revive. This soon becomes less of a choice, and more a basic tactic to avoid crashes.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-55-43It’s a shame too because if you can get to grips with it the game works. The variety of enemies is nice, and switching tactics to handle each one is rewarding. Drawing a neat spiral line and watching it blast a swarm of ghosts is an air punching moment, particularly if you can trail off your line and drop your character off at a safe vantage point when you’re done. You can also possible to lure enemies into traps or use the layout of the stage against them, making the whole experience feel more varied and thought out than it would.

At every stage, Slashy Hero feels like time and effort went in to making it a complete experience. From item vendors on the menu screen who will swap candy for upgrades, to a whole range of unlockable Halloween costumes that will give you permanent stat boosts. On your phone, this would probably be one of the most satisfying purchases you could make. Unfortunately so much of this time and effort has gone to waste on a poorly thought out and rushed port to Steam. It never feels quite right and breaks too often to get yourself accustomed to it.

5/10 – A good game, but some serious problems get in the way of fully enjoying it.

 

(As this blog exists, in part, to train myself up for a paid writing career, I try to set myself reasonable requirements and restrictions before writing. For this piece I gave myself a 500 word target length.)

SOMA – Review – PC / Mac.

SOMA Screen

Few games leave the player with the lingering, sometimes troubling feelings that stick with you after playing SOMA. From Frictional Games, who scared the pants off Youtubers with the Amnesia series, this is a more contemplative game. You play Simon, normal in every way except that he’s slowly dying from a bleed in the brain. While receiving an experimental new scan everything goes dark. When the lights come back on, he’s in Pathos-II, a facility at the bottom of the Ocean. All is not well here. The base’s AI has worked its way into all the electrical systems, machines and sea-life merge in unintended ways, and a few old robots have forgotten they’re robots.

It’s first person and reminiscent of the Amnesia games and their imitators. You can crouch and peek around corners or pick up scrap off the floor and toss it about. Occasionally you’ll need to break a window by lobbing something heavy through it. As you head deeper into the complex you meet with various hideous predators that will make trouble.  Hiding and sneaking play a big part of the game, but SOMA doesn’t ask you to spend hours tucked away in lockers. Instead you’ll need to duck in a corner and wait for the best moment to shuffle past undetected.

Sometimes you’ll escape. If not, the game uses a forgiving second chance system. Getting caught by an enemy once will knock you back, get caught again before reaching a healing station and you’re finished. What’s remarkable is how rarely this happens. The game wants you to be frightened, but it never feels like your obstacles are insurmountable. They are simply part of the unfortunate sequence of events Simon is trapped within. As such, events progress at a pace that feels appropriate to the experience.

Complimenting this, each encounter with an enemy is unique. There are no Goombas here; no enemy feels like a generic “SOMA Monster” haunting every corridor. Instead each encounter feels like a planned moment, designed to frighten you in just the right way. When their time is done, they bow out of the story. It is not unusual to find long periods of time going by without an encounter and yet the game feels no emptier for it. In these sequences the setting, and the science fiction is allowed to breath. It maintains tension, but isn’t afraid to put away the action now and then. SOMA feels like a curated experience, controlled and patient, as if every corner, ever room was tested and retested to make sure events flowed smoothly. I haven’t played something so well managed since Bioshock.

To go into more detail would spoil things. Even so, the game is adept out outmanoeuvring your speculations. If you play expecting to guess the twist, you might be disappointed. Whatever your ideas are, the developers thought of them first. When the truth of Simon’s journey is revealed, it comes neither too early or too late, and is less a surprise than a feeling of immense satisfaction. It is a masterpiece of storytelling.

 

soma-wallpaper-hd
If it has a weakness, it’s in variety. This isn’t a long game, but you’re going to see a lot of airlocks and corridors before it’s over. That’s a consequence of the setting, and they do try to shake it up. You’ll spend time walking across the ocean floor, or riding transport vehicles, but it’s never long before you’re staring at corridors again. This carries across to the monsters too. While each encounter feels unique, the visual style of the creatures themselves is pretty consistent. Rotten flesh and junk in various arrangements. It’s not a bad style and you’ll spend most of your time hiding from them anyway, but non really stand out like a Xenomorph or a Big Daddy.

This isn’t a deal breaker though because SOMA plays to its strengths. It takes its little bag of ideas and polishes them until they’re absolutely sparkling. It grips the player immediately, and confronts them with difficult questions. This is a game about being human, you will explore what it means to be yourself, and what it means to be alive. At times the game does an eerily effective job of breaking down the fourth wall and making you question where the game stops and reality begins.

SOMA is something special. It’s a great horror game, and a tidy little first person narrative experience that makes the most of a conservative budget and a limited scope. That’s an achievement in itself. But it also explores territory few other games have, it opens with a quote by Philip K Dick, and like Dick, it uses science fiction to make you question your fundamental understanding of the world. Here it succeeds too.

Final Score 10 / 10

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – Review

Don’t I spoil you, dear Zelda fans? Don’t worry, I have only one more Zelda review lurking in my archives after this one, and I might not post it. It’s a piece I wrote about the GBA port of A Link to the Past and is concerned much more with the port than the game itself. I know I’ve been swamping you with Zelda reviews over the last few days, but I’m really trying to get my old dooyoo reviews here where they belong. This is a review for one of my all time favourite Zelda, Phantom Hourglass on the DS. A divisive title, to be sure, and overshadowed by recent successes like Nintendo’s 3DS ports, and A Link Between Worlds. Still, I liked it then, and I like it now. Read on, dear Zelda fan, and let me know what you think. 

Zelda Phantom HourglassThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is the first game in the Zelda series to see a release on the Nintendo DS. As such it has a lot to prove, not only in proving that the DS is capable of adapting to the series’ varied gameplay but also demonstrating that the massive and lengthy stories that the series is famous for can be squeezed into one of those tiny little cartridges. It rises to both these challenges superbly.

Firstly, Phantom Hourglass is a little unusual in the series in that it follows on directly from a previous game. Most entries in the series take regular components, the hero Link, the Princess Zelda and the villain Ganon and then place them in a totally self-contained story. This time around we pick up not long after the conclusion of the last home console entry in the series, The Wind Waker. Fortunately the game does not depend on too much back story but for players of The Wind Waker it’s nice to find yourself in a familiar world.

The game begins upon a pirate ship populated by some of the most cheerful pirates I’ve ever seen. You play Link, a young boy this time around, a member of the ship’s crew under Princess Zelda who has taken to playing captain. While the whole set up will probably make more sense to players of the previous game it doesn’t matter too much as thirty seconds in the jolly pirate ship runs afoul of the ghost ship. A fog clouds the entire vessel and Zelda is abducted. Link being the hero that he is, dives overboard in pursuit only to get caught in the current and wash up on a strange beach. And so it is that all is washed away and we embark upon a new adventure.

Link soon becomes acquainted with a fairy, a wise old man, a sea captain and a fortune teller. Between them all they piece together enough clues about the ghost ship and set sail. Players of The Wind Waker will remember sailing from island to island in their personal yacht. This time around Link has access to a small paddle steamer and so things move a fair bit faster.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is that it has some of the most beautiful graphics ever seen on a DS game. When The Wind Waker was released on the gamecube, a surprising uproar erupted from Zelda fandom about the graphics. The Wind Waker demonstrated a very well designed example of cell shading at a time when games didn’t dare to be different. The visuals were very stylised, bright and colourful with a hint of ancient chinese art about them. Character designs were very exaggerated, water was a mix of pure blue and pure white, great explosions blew out in a flurry on inky spirals.

It remains one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. Apparently some of these “fans” however, had been operating under the delusion that Zelda was and ever should be an ultra realistic, gritty fantasy series with polygon perfect characters. While that doesn’t match any Zelda game I’ve ever seen, this corner of fandom was particularly vocal and objected strongly to the direction The Wind Waker had taken. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game’s designer was a little hurt, I believe and when the next major Zelda title arrived we were presented with a dark and gothic tale set in an ultra realistic, fantasy world. It was a great game but really only a fraction as innovative and as fun as The Wind Waker.

All is not lost however and The Wind Waker’s visual style has been kept for Zelda’s handheld titles, where gamers don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Phantom Hourglass benefits so much from the heritage of The Wind Waker, it’s hard to imagine the game being possible without it. The diminutive child version of link makes a perfect little hero to guide around the world and while the power of the DS pales in comparison to the Gamecube, a more stylised more is far better suited to its hardware. Textures here are the biggest weakness with most being blocky and rough, however the whole game is assembled beautiful and I was overjoyed to see that explosions still blow out into inky spirals. I think Phantom Hourglass is probably the best looking DS title that I own, while it doesn’t push the hardware as much as some it always presents a consistent image that suits the game. In the end it is games such as these that we remember.

The game also makes use of the entire DS capabilities, often in very clever ways. Controlling Link is done via the touch screen however, unlike Super Mario 64 which expected you to use the touch screen like an analogue stick, here you merely touch the stylus to the screen and Link will run to that point. The stylus must be held down allowing Link to follow but unlike other titles you aren’t require to push forward; it’s much handier. Links typical range of sword attacks are all here and made highly intuitive. Simple quick attacks are done by tapping the screen while more complicated attacks are done through a series of swipes. The spin attack is probably easiest and just asks you to draw a quick circle around Link. It’s quick and easy to do, most players will probably get to grips with it in minutes. Phantom Hourglass also makes use of the microphone, though only for a few specific events. As they’re part of some very entertaining puzzles, I won’t spoil them here, I’ll just say it’s nice to see developers using this feature.

While the gameplay is strong, I was a little disappointed int the storytelling which seems to have taken a step backwards this time around. Ostensibly the game places its emphasis on exploration but this is far too easy to be truly diverting. The game doesn’t feature a wide range of other characters and those that are around often aren’t that interesting. he game also doesn’t last as long as I’ve come to expect from a Zelda title. The story can be worked through in a good few days and the ocean has somehow shrunk since The Wind Waker. However, it is playing the role of an epilogue more than a completely new adventure so perhaps that’s intentional.

There’s a lot of really solid gameplay to be found here and peeks of a really solid game hiding beneath the surface. The dungeon segments have the added twist of a time element that makes them somewhat more interesting than usual and I often felt like this could have been a classic with perhaps a better story. There’s a lot to love including a fantastic visual style and a control scheme that’s a dream on the DS but I was left wishing the visuals were all they’d taken from The Wind Waker. The game feels more tied down by the ocean setting than liberated and as much of the vast world has been cut out it seems somewhat pointless. I keep finding myself drifting off to a world where I was playing with exactly the same engine but a whole new story. Perhaps next time, eh?

If you’re considering buying Phantom Hourglass, don’t let this review put you off. It’s a first rate game that not only looks stunning but is fun and compelling. However, if you’re coming over from other entries in the series then I would advise you to think of it more as a short trip than a whole new world to fall into.

This is available at most game stores and online for around £20, it will run in any Nintendo DS console.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Review

I was surprised to discover another Zelda review lurking in my dooyoo archives, but here it is. I hope you enjoy it!

Our hero has changed a bit over the years.
Our hero has changed a bit over the years.

Link’s Awakening for the original Gameboy was the first Zelda title released for a handheld device, and only the fourth in the series when it launched. Developed at a time when the franchise was still working through unfamiliar territory, it doesn’t have any of the usual cliches inherited from Ocarina of Time on the N64 and remains a remarkably solid adventure.

The story is a direct sequel to the Super Nintendo game, A Link to the Past. Our hero Link is shipwrecked on a the small Koholint island and discovers that all is not well. Monsters are roaming the island and Link is stranded, to escape he must wake the mythical Wind Fish that is supposed to watch over the island. In typical Zelda fashion this means working through a series of puzzle laden dungeons and retrieving some powerful artefacts. In this case, eight magical instruments. Hey, I didn’t say it was completely free of cliches.

The plot develops in a surprisingly intricate fashion and though the story has developed a reputation for having an “it was all a dream” twist ending, that is a little inaccurate. As Link explores the island, he discovers more about its nature. Things become a little surreal as questions are raised as to the island’s reality and more importantly, the role the Wind Fish plays in all this. As Link completes more dungeons he becomes embroiled in sentient nightmares trying to stop him from waking the Wind Fish. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated narrative that one would not expect to find on a Gameboy title and is probably the best RPG to ever see release on the system.

Link's Awakening GameplayGameplay is very simple, taking its cues from the original Legend of Zelda on the NES and A Link to the Past. The player controls Link from an overhead perspective and is equipped with a sword and shield. Most monsters are relatively simple to defeat but large in number with some challenging boss battles scattered throughout. The game is challenging when it comes to puzzles but keeps combat manageable, the focus here is the adventure as a whole and the game rarely disappoints.

Graphically, Link’s Awakening is a gem. The Gameboy’s power was in the same region as the original NES but this title is so much more stylish than the original Zelda that you would think the hardware was a world apart. Developed in a very similar style to A Link to the Past it really fits as a sequel and looks absolutely beautiful.

Links Awakening was released twice back in the day. The original Gameboy version was followed by a Gameboy Colour release that added a few new dungeons and some nice use of colour. Both are largely the same though both are also quite difficult to find. If you want to play this, and I would recommend it to anyone, then your much better off playing the virtual console re-release on the 3ds.

Link's Awakening Egg