Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission – Review

It’s silent out in space, I’m squeezed into the cockpit of a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and my only company is a little red Astromech Droid who seems to feel the isolation as much as I do. Something has gone wrong, wherever we are, the fleet is somewhere else… Then in a sudden eruption of light and noise, rebel ships drop out of hyperspace around me. A Rebel Blockade Runner glides above, and I know I am back in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

In reality I am playing the absurdly titled Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, a label that has obviously been passed through every marketing department at EA, Sony, LucasArts, and Disney, with each being allowed to shove another word in somewhere. Ostensibly a tie in to Rogue One, opening this month, we all know what the X-Wing VR Mission exists for. Sony needs to sell the VR headset and Star Wars is a bankable property these days. Throw in a dash of nostalgia and the promise that you’ll really feel like you’re flying an X-Wing, and the game sells itself. As a bonus, it’s free to anyone who already owned Star Wars Battlefront.

 

Star Wars VR mission At-AT

 

The mission itself is another short, guided experience that slots neatly between the more arcade style shooting of Call of Duty’s Jackal Mission, and the non-interactive, scripted experiences of Playstation VR Worlds. It’s narrative driven and totally focused on giving the player an authentic Star Wars adventure. While you have the freedom to roam around and check out classic ships from whatever angle you like, the mission progresses under a very tight set of circumstances that take you from navigating asteroids, to escorting a damaged ship, and finally to taking on a Star Destroyer. By the end you’ll enjoy a lot of authentic Star Wars moments along with a fully voiced and well written cast of peers, culminating in the familiar end music while you check your scores.

The ties to Rogue One are minimal, with one character from the film making his first appearance here, as well as a new ship, but for the most part this is about a rag-tag, anonymous flight of Rebel pilots doing what they do best. The story, such as it is, works well enough for the length of the mission, and creates a good sense of a wider conflict going on while the pilots themselves have good chemistry, with both voice actors representing the male and female player avatar doing an amazing job of capturing the player’s inner enthusiasm.

 

X-Wing Vr cockpit

 

Gameplay is pretty strong too. This is just a first person equivalent of Battlefront’s third person dogfighting, but it works really well; gunning down Tie Fighters feels appropriately challenging but never impossible, and just flying around is a smooth and satisfying experience. During the asteroid sequence, weaving in and out of the belt is awe inspiring, as giant rocks threaten to crush your ship at any moment. Battlefront’s flight controls wouldn’t seem up to the challenge, but you always feel in control of the craft, even if your manoeuvrability options are limited. Everything is kept simple so you can focus on watching your squadmates duck and weave while sharing Rebel banter. It’s a nice atmosphere throughout.

 

VR cockpit Blockade Runner

 

Attention to detail seals the deal though, with every button in the X-Wing’s cockpit accurate and interactive, every ship you fly past looking practically film perfect. It draws you in so perfectly, even in places you don’t expect. The mission opens with an X-Wing sat in a VR hanger room surrounded by white space, should you speak during these scenes, the VR headset mic will take your voice and add an echo to the room’s ambient noise. Just one of the little ways the developers have tried to move your further into the game’s world, and utterly stunning the first time you hear it. So much of making VR work is about this little illusions that blur the line between your game and the real world, so every time you experience a new one, it’s a real pleasure.

 

Red Leader in X-Wing Vr mission

 

If there are problems with the X-Wing VR Mission (besides the title) it’s more about the climate it has launched into. As much as I enjoyed the mission on its own merits, there’s still a feeling that this is too little to really sell anyone on a unit. It’s certainly fun, but it still requires a PS4, VR, Camera, and copy of Star Wars Battlefront to get through the door. It’s asking an awful lot for 20 minutes of gameplay. Worse still, if you own the VR, this is probably the third free (ish) cockpit shooting demo you’ve played in the last few months. With EVE Valkyrie’s demo and the Call of Duty Jackal Mission filling the same niché. X-Wing is the best of the lot, but it’s still an experience we’ve had a lot of right now, with only EVE Valkyrie offering a full length (though very pricey) title if you want it. What the X-Wing VR mission did the most was convince me we need a real VR Rogue Squadron game. This really feels like a mission straight out of Rogue Leader, with its jump in controls, and focus on set pieces and authentic feel, but as soon as you begin, it ends. If it had launched standalone alongside the headset, this would be the standout VR launch title, as it is, it feels like just one more all-t00-brief proof of concept, with nowhere to go once you’re sold on the idea.

 

Fighting a Star Destroyer in VR

 

At the end of the day though, the content is so good while it lasts that it just shines through those concerns. So far it’s the only piece of VR software that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again just to live in its world, and unlike some VR launch titles, it screams effort from the moment you put the headset on. Short lived or not, this is the kind of game VR was made for.

9/10

Playstation VR – Video Review

Playstation VR – Video Review

As you know, I picked up a PSVR recently after being very skeptical about VR’s potential for greater immersion, but won over by a really strong launch lineup. With that in mind I put together something I’ve never really done before; a video review! (With me on camera and everything…) Check it out below, and I have a few final thoughts after the vid if you keep reading.

Now since I posted that to the channel I’ve had a little feedback I’d like to address. Firstly, there were some concerns that I’d reviewed the unit without the Playstation Move controllers. While the motion controllers are heavily marketed with the PSVR, they are sold separately, and unlike the Playstation Camera, aren’t essential to the device. I, and many others, bought the unit without the move controllers, and as such I think reviewing it without was appropriate. Most importantly, most of the game I covered in the review itself played great with the Dualshock 4 alone and so it didn’t influence my opinion of the hardware itself. I’m a consumer too, and like most consumers, I’m on a budget. I can only review what I can get a hold of, and if Sony wants to sell them without, they need to be prepared for reviews without too. Fortunately the VR passed.

Secondly, I didn’t cover a lot of software in the review, limiting my discussing mainly to the Demo Disc and VR Worlds as these two packages are generally considered to be the PSVR’s pack-in software. (Even if they are charging extra for worlds.) The reason for this was firstly, that this was mainly a hardware review and not an exhaustive look at PSVR software which I’m covering separately, and secondly, that the Demo Disc and VR Worlds contain a wide variety of experiences and interaction styles that gave me enough to communicate my opinion about the hardware as a whole. (Also, while these are my honest and genuine thoughts on the VR, it’s a light-heart, 7 minute video intended to get a few laughs across too. It’s about my experience with the device, not shilling extra games for Sony.)

So, how do I feel about the VR since I filmed this? The X-Wing Battlefront VR mission has launched since I made this so it’s a shame I couldn’t include my sheer joy in playing that game here, but VR continues to be one of the most exciting experiences for me. Mileage may vary, but for me each new VR title is a joy to dive into.

Finally, this was a really knew type of video for me. I’d leave to hear your feedback in the comments!

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #4: Review

It’s time once again for All Amazing! The series in which I read and review every issue of Marvel’s flagship comic, The Amazing Spider-Man. Today we reach Issue 4, and the introduction of The Sandman… and Peter Parker’s failed love-life. 

J Jonah Jameson no Pants


The Amazing Spider-Man – Issue 4 – Review

Something that keeps cropping up in these early issues of Amazing Spider-Man is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s impeccable sense of what the character is all about, and what his weaknesses are. We’re only in the fourth issue and already they’ve been adept at writing characters and scenarios that seem perfectly designed to match this particular hero. You might think that’s what writers are supposed to do, but comics prior to Marvel in the 60s were often about indistinguishable god-like heroes who fought, and surpassed, whatever foe happened to be trendy that week. Spider-Man is so different right from the start in that each foe he faces challenges him and forces him to confront his own limitations. It’s refreshing and gives the series a weird sort of Smallville vibe. I know it’s easy to say this in retrospect, but the series feels written like a good prequel. We find Spider-Man unformed and learning, incomplete. It’s a joy to read. In this issue we meet another new villain, and he works because Spidey’s powers really offer him little advantage in a fight.

Enter Sandman.

 

 

Before that however, the book continues to remind us how much of a comedy it is with a really quite funny opening. After stopping a heist before the goons have managed to break the glass, both Spider-Man and the crooks realise he can’t actually apprehend them because they haven’t committed a crime yet. While he’s manhandling them, they start to cry assault until New York’s finest arrive and Spidey has to scarper. After getting all stroppy about it, he decides to blame J. Jonah Jameson for nobody in the city respecting him and, I swear to god, goes to his office to leave a “deposit” on Jameson’s office chair.

Spider-Man pranks jamesonNow, the deposit turns out to be webbing, but I don’t believe for a second Stan Lee didn’t know what he was writing here. Just read this.

Spider-Man gets revenge on Jameson

While still feeling a bit sulky about things, and doubly miserable because he has to sew the holes in his own costume, word gets out that the dangerous bank robber, The Sandman, has arrived in New York. Spidey makes plans to track him down after school, and blows off a girl way out of his league to do it. (Sometimes you wonder if Parker doesn’t bring these problems on himself really.) It’s a waste of time though because while on the run from his latest heist, The Sandman conveniently runs into Peter’s school to hide. Pete ducks away to change, and Spider-Man emerges to save the day.

SpiderMan issue 4 panelsSo far I think this is the first time a fight has taken place on the school ground, in front of his peers. It’s a scene we’d see play out in so many versions of Spider-Man, but it’s a natural fit for the character. The bullies who taunt the nerd, unaware they’re watching the same guy kick-ass and cheering him on. It’s real underdog porn right there, and on behalf of all underdogs, it’s always appreciated. Still, Spider-Man isn’t having the best time. Sandman is pretty brutal, he can be powder when he needs to be, and solid as a rock the next moment. Peter’s webbing is useless, and at one point he resorts to trying to use a woodwork drill on him. Suffice to say it doesn’t really go so well.

The fight is actually really solid. It takes up a big chunk of the book, and more than once Spidey takes a pretty brutal hit. Of all the fights we’ve seen him in so far, this is one of the most tough and you feel it. It’s weird to think that a minor goon like Sandman would be so effective in his first appearance, but it’s honestly my favourite action sequence in the series so far… until the end. The end sucks.

Spider-Man Sandman Battle


How does Spider-Man dominate Sandman? Soak him and turn him to mud? Melt him into glass? Disperse the sand in the air?

No, he just sucks him up in a little vacuum cleaner.

The ending is also a bittersweet victory for Peter. After washing the crap out of his slacks, Jameson turns up at the school and promises to buy Parker’s photos sight unseen; Parker has the evening free and money in his pocket, but his date now thinks he’s a coward who spent the day hiding under the desk. Not for the last time, Peter Parker ends a fight feeling like he was punished for doing the right thing.

This is a simple but solid issue; all the Spider-cliches are here, but it’s just so well done. The villain is genuinely threatening, Peter’s humiliation is similarly well communicated. There’s a moment after the whole class publicly humiliates him for his assumed cowardice, he turns to Flash, and threatens him. He’s the good guy, of course, so he holds back and reminds himself that Spider-Man can’t just go thrashing teenagers, (even if he’s just a teen himself) but the look on his face as he realises he has to back down and double humiliate himself is pretty sad.

This issue shows why the series deserved to become the hit it did!

Overwatch Review – PS4

Overwatch Review – PS4

Overwatch is a refreshing example of high production values and solid gameplay overcoming traditional expectations of what a big budget game should be. It features no in-game narrative, no single player worth mentioning, and aside from its large cast of characters, a relatively sparse amount of content, but it makes up for it with focus and a level of polish that makes you forget you’re playing the same selection of modes and maps over and over again. Even when you do notice, you’re having so much fun it’s not really an issue.

While fundamentally a multiplayer shooter, it borrows liberally from MOBAs, delivering an array of distinct characters that all feel unique and occasionally genre-breaking. Shooter fans will feel at home with gunslingers like McCree or Soldier 76, but might find ninja robot Genji or mad-bomber Junkrat to be a bit of an adjustment. There’s enough variety that most players will find a play style that suits them, and despite this range of approaches, balancing feels finely tuned and appropriate. Each character comes with a unique weapon, special skills, and a powerful ultimate attack, but no character has the best of everything; often you’re forced to choose between a weapon you really like and a devastating ultimate, but it always feels like a willing concession, not a compromise.

Lucio doing special attack

A big part of the fun comes not just from trying new skills, but after each death you’re treated to seeing exactly how someone downed you. It’s good for stealing strategies, as well as learning which skills you want to try next. Even after you’ve been playing a while it’s possible to see someone do something you hadn’t even thought of, sending you scurrying to the character select screen to give it a go. The game rewards this by incentivising all skills, not just kills. Handling objectives, healing damage, eve blocking damage, are all considered worthy of score at the end of the game, and as such the community at large seems less fixated on maintaining their Kill / Death ratio and actually on switching it up and having fun. There’s an experimental camaraderie to it all, and this cycle of charging ultimate attacks, forcing your enemies to change character, and changing your own in response, keeps every game a revolving door of changing tactics that can provide endless variety. Almost.

All this takes place in a series of fifteen maps that represent futuristic interpretations of real world cities, and seem ripped right out of a Pixar movie. They play a massive part in setting the scene, with little consistent details popping up over and over like hidden machinery, hover cars, and skyscrapers towering over historical buildings, hinting at a deeper lore, Blizzard has hidden away in short films and other merchandise. Each does a great job of showing off how colourful the game is, and disguising how samey the game modes can be. It’s great to zip up to the roof of a Buddhist temple and pick enemies out from below, or surprise someone from behind the British postbox, but most of the maps are basically linear zig-zag paths between two bases. Even the game modes are largely indistinguishable from one another, with heavy objective based modes that see you claiming and reclaiming control points until time runs down.

Reaper being Badass

Overwatch is the most fun I’ve had with an online shooter in years, but it’s hard to shake the feeling the content is a little thin on the ground. The character roster is huge and will take hours to play through properly, but once you’ve picked a character you can play most of the modes and maps in less than a day. The lack of single player or story don’t hurt a game that feels so well developed for multiplayer, but it does make it feel, on consoles at least, a little expensive compared to other big budget games offering the whole package. And yet, the experience is so addictive, and so well designed that it’s hard to really feel this complaints while you’re in the game, all you want to do is jump in for one more round.

8/10

Overwatch is a solid, and compelling multiplayer game that hides a sparse amount of content behind a huge roster of characters. It’s great fun and will keep you coming back for more, but after a few hours you’ll have seen everything there is, even if you’re still having a great time. 

Batman: Arkham Knight Illustrates Why Change Sucks Sometimes.

Oh Arkham Knight, what happened.

Back where it all began...

In a world of cookie cutter sequels and grey First-Person Shooters, Rocksteady’s Arkham series has been like a beacon in the fog, a light at the end of the tunnel. A comic book superhero series that merges multiple genres, and some of the most beloved characters into a beautiful experience for comic book fans. Before 2009’s Arkham Asylum, I had never played a game that felt so true to its source material. I probably still haven’t. Well paced, well written and lovingly designed, I still think it’s one of the greatest games ever made.

A sequel was inevitable, and while I didn’t love Arkham City quite as much, (perfection is hard to reproduce) the same attention to detail and affection for the characters was felt throughout. The series went open world, but the same attention to pacing, the same respect for restraint, the same care permeated every decision. Arkham City was a more ambitious title, and it lost a little cohesion in the process, but it knew what worked in Asylum and it tried to build on that. Even Arkham Origins, developed by WB’s side team managed to work with the formula and strike out in a few original directions. It was clearly a B-List title, but we all knew when Rocksteady got their final chapter out, they’d blow us all away again. Be careful what you wish for.

Batman-Arkham-Origins

It has been three weeks, and I’m still blown away. I’m blown away by how misjudged Arkham Knight is, I’m blown away by how such an anticipated game can be such a catastrophe on PC, and I’m blown away by how much of a mess the game is, even when it’s working how it should. How did the game get this way? In a word; Batmobile.

Arkham-Knight-Shot-01Batman’s iconic car has made a couple of appearances in the series before, but never as a playable vehicle. Perhaps anticipating series fatigue, in the run up to release, Rocksteady started shouting about the Batmobile to whoever would listen. It was playable, you could drive it anywhere in the city, call it at any time, use it in combat. What they didn’t tell us was that you would be forced to do all these things, all the time. All the bloody time. And more, a good third of the game is actually a tank combat game, forcing you to blow enemy tanks to pieces. Of course, Batman doesn’t kill, so the game goes to great lengths to remind us these are “unmanned drones” in a gratuitous example of writing a game around a stupid decision. The Batmobile permeates every part of the game. In the past, the Riddler set the Dark Knight fiendish riddles and complex brainteasers. This time around, most of the “puzzles” are basically race tracks. Occasions where Batman would pull down a beam or a pipe with a belt gadget have now all been replaced with lengthy car sections in which Batman must open doors and lower ramps to that he can use the winch on the car. It is no understatement to say that the Batmobile is Arkham Knight’s single most prominent feature. It is the focus of the game, it is a Batmobile game every bit as much as it is a Batman game.

936786And it’s such a shame because the Batmobile can be fantastic. Calling it at any time, using it to trump obstacles in an unscripted situation is exciting, and very rewarding. But when it’s forced upon you, it feels more like being forced to take your little brother with you to the mall. Nobody wants it around, and you can’t have any fun with it there, but you’re stuck with it. And like your cringe-inducing parents telling you what a great time you’ll have, the game itself keeps trying to sell you on the concept. Gliding over passing goons and nine times out of ten you’ll hear them discussing just how cool the Batmobile is. It has the effect of making Rocksteady sound massively insecure about the whole thing while all the time they’re cramming it down your throat.

If you want to see it for yourself, here’s me “enjoying” one of the first extended Batmobile sections:

 

Game developers are in a difficult position. Customers want sequels, they want their favourite properties to keep going, but nobody wants to play the same game over and over. The players, and the press, demand “innovation” and the publishers and the marketing department wants new gadgets to throw on the box. It can be hard to get the balance right, but the most successful franchises (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, etc.) have been those that found ways to innovate without disrupting the core formula. When they do (Assassin’s Creed III, for example) sales often take a hit, but it’s hard to think of a sequel that has changed the formula as much as Arkham Knight has.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that somewhere, underneath the tires of the Bat-Tank, there’s a very good game in Arkham Knight. Not on PC, of course, but if you’re lucky enough to play on consoles, then at times you’ll see some of the best set-pieces in the series so far. There’s a character driven sub-plot that, while the ending is super-obvious to anyone who has read a comic recently, is really well handled. The voice acting is pretty great, and there’s a first-person opening sequence that really captures the feeling of Gotham in Rocksteady’s eyes. There are long, extended sections where you aren’t allowed to take the Batmobile (and you’re supposed to feel sad about this) where the game really comes alive. Unfortunately, another tank combat sequence isn’t far away.

But in the end Arkham Knight is not a good game. It’s like a great painting with cartoon ducks scribbled over the top, and they’re nice ducks, and one or two ducks look like they’re part of the picture, but the rest of the ducks cover everything up so you can’t appreciate the painting, and they’ve painted in a sign saying “look at those fucking ducks.”


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

The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker – Review

Hey guys, this is another review carried across from my old DooYoo account. I believe this is the last of my Zelda reviews, but I like to save the best ’til last. This was written before Wind Waker HD hit WiiU.

Zelda WWNintendo’s Legend of Zelda series is easily one of the most well designed and superbly executed series of games around. They are, to me, the definitive adventure, puzzle and RPG titles; offering superb gameplay and excellent characterisation that has something for everyone. While the gameplay style is fairly consistent from game to game, we rarely see more than one or two titles a generation and so it doesn’t get old as you’d think. Often, playing a new Zelda title is more like slipping into an familiar old jumper. I suppose what I’m saying is that if you’ve played a Zelda game before, you know what to expect. Usually, excellence. While the series has branched out a bit in recent years with sequels and side stories on the DS, Nintendo’s home console is always the place for the main adventure, the significant chapters that contribute most to the overall story. This is definitely one of those chapters.

The Wind Waker was the first Zelda title released for the Gamecube and presented a major change in direction from its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and its direct sequel Majora’s Mask. From the start Nintendo seem intent to push the series into new ground, the influence of Ocarina of Time is never far off however. As the game opens, we are informed that many centuries have passed since the Hero of Time defeated the evil Ganon and sealed him away in a magical prison; referencing the events of Ocarina. Since then, the world has changed a great deal and thanks to a great catastrophe, much of it is underwater. Here we find Link on his tenth birthday, he and his family live on a small island surrounded by a vast ocean. To mark the special day, he is given an outfit resembling Link’s usual green gear, complete with his famous pointed hat. Young Link isn’t too impressed with this dorky getup but his grandmother politely reminds him that all boys are dressed like the famous hero on their tenth birthday, it’s tradition. Trouble soon erupts on the island as Link’s sister is abducted by a giant bird, rumours that other young girls have been snatched leads Link out into the wide ocean to save the day. Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with a talking boat, visits the flooded land below and even faces off against an ancient enemy. It’s a vast world to explore and the story is great; a good foundation for any Zelda game.

The Wind Waker distinguishes itself from other entries in the series somewhat with its distinct style. The most obvious element of this is the unique artistic direction taken with the visuals. Unlike the more realistic Ocarina of Time, Nintendo developed Wind Waker to resemble a living cartoon. Using early but excellent cel-shading techniques they have created a game in which the very environments seem to have been formed up out of acrylic paint. It’s very effectively done and is probably one of the most beautiful games ever made. Stylised art also dates far more favourably than realism in the video game world and so Wind Waker is still easily one of the best looking games around.

Wind Waker SailingThis visual approach suits the games back to basic approach very well. We are following a Link that is very young, similarly to earlier titles such as A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. While the game inherits the stronger puzzle elements of Ocarina of Time, it really strives to play on different sides of the series’ heritage. It’s an approach that works very well, creating a Zelda story that is more accessible for younger players while still being deep and challenging.

Unfortunately, Zelda is a long running and very successful series which leaves it contending with its own fans. The Wind Waker suffered from a great deal f criticism from these fans before it even saw release. Despite a history of varying styles, Wind Waker’s more stylised graphics and colourful story were attacked as selling out. Nothing could be further from the truth, this game is absolutely excellent throughout and produced with a real caring hand. Still, it performs the biggest crime in the eyes of fandom, it attempts to be different.

While Zelda titles released on the Gamecube and Wii since have reverted back to the style of the Nintendo 64 games, it’s nice to see that Wind Waker’s influence is carried on in a series of titles for the Nintendo DS. These offer a lot of new gameplay ideas but maintain the cel shaded style that suits the system very well.

If you’re a newcomer to the Zelda series or just missed this one the first time around, The Wind Waker is an easy one to recommend. It’s as long lasting and intelligent as other entries in the series but has a nice feel to it that sets it apart. It’s easily one of the best home console versions and much better than Twilight Princess a few years ago.

This title will also play on a Nintendo Wii, however it will require a Gamecube controller to play. It is, unfortunately, a little hard to get a hold of and will set you back around £15. It’s as good as any new title though and well worth the investment.

Batman: Arkham City – Review

I’ve had some nice responses/hits for my Assassin’s Creed reviews, (here, here and here,) so I thought I’d copy a few more reviews across from my account on Dooyoo.co.uk for you. Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of my favourite games in 2009, I snapped up the sequel immediately. Here’s what I thought of it…

BatmanCatwomanArkhamCityBatman: Arkham Asylum was something of a surprise hit back in 2009. Developed by little known studio, Rocksteady, the game managed to combine original gameplay with a very authentic interpretation of DC Comics’ darkest hero into one of the finest games produced this generation. A sequel was inevitable, and when the first whispers of Arkham City started to appear people began to wonder if Rocksteady could make lightning strike twice. The final game is here now and we can see how well it lives up to its predecessor.

Arkham City picks up loosely where Asylum closed with a large section of Gotham City fenced off and turned into an open prison for all the thugs and crazies that make up Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Though, funnily enough, the neighbourhood also seems to house most of Gotham’s famous landmarks. The so-called Arkham City has become a political and legal nightmare which is brought to a head when Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne is arrested in the middle of a peaceful protest and locked up with the rest of the baddies. This is not entirely unwelcome however, as Batman can now investigate the city from the inside and find out exactly who’s pulling the strings behind the whole shady affair.

BatmanArkhamCitySkylineWithin Arkham City, you’ll also find some subplots involving a lot of the supporting cast from the Batman comics. The Joker has a major storyline that interweaves with the overall plot which is tied to the plot of the first game, but you’ll also see some faces we missed last time. The game features are great take on both the Penguin and Mister Freeze, you’ll also spend a lot of time solving the Riddler’s puzzles once more. Each of the characters feel like they were written and designed by people who read and love the Batman comics. For anyone familiar with the comics, it’s very much like returning to that world of plot twists and interlocking characters, and it’s nice to see a Batman game that takes this source as its inspirations and not the films or cartoons.

ArkhamCityJokerThe game has made some changes from Arkham Asylum. Where the first was a tightly scripted affair, walking you through the Asylum building by building, Arkham City is an open world game. You are free to make your way around the city as you please, but the story will guide you to various locations such as the old police station or the abandoned steal mill. These sections are more tightly controlled and feel much more like the previous game. This creates a nice balance between the exploration sections that let you really feel like a superhero, and the more plot driven moments that give the game a stronger sense of narrative. One of Arkham’s Asylum’s biggest strengths was the feeling of authorship, of being guided through a really well constructed story. This is a double edge sword however, as the game occasionally felt on-rails and restricted. In Arkham City, the balancing of these two factors does have the consequence that the story feels like it has been placed on the back burner a little. The effect when you finish the game is a little less grand, the whole experience less gripping, but it feels necessary. A sequel could not have returned to the setting of the first game, nor performed the same tricks in a similarly structured location. It’s a step forward, but a little is lost in the process. Still, Rocksteady do a lot with their transition to open world. There is a lot to find in the game, ranging from in-jokes and trivia for comics fans, to whole sideplots you might not discover until you’ve completed the main game.

ArkhamCityPenguinThe combat system returns, with very few tweaks, from the first game. This is easily one of the best fighting styles in games at the moment and the gameplay is so strong that the game is comfortable making set pieces entirely around one of Batman’s martial arts battles. Essentially combat is divided into only two controls, Attack and Counter with more complex moves arriving later in the game. The goal is not to unleashed complicated attacks on enemies, but to fight multiple opponents gracefully. Moving from next to next without getting hit yourself. It has to be played to be understood really, but it remains one of the series’ best features.
Also returning are the stealth sections. These take the form of rooms or locations patrolled by prisoners with serious weaponry. These fights are generally impossible to win when attacked head on, instead you are required to pick off opponents one by one using stealth attacks. The combination of the flowing martial arts sections and the slow stealth rooms really add to the feel of being Batman that make these games so unique.

ArkhamCityFreezeWhere things have changed from the previous game, they have mostly changed for the better. Batman is equipped with “Detective Vision,” a sort of x-ray vision, computer mode that highlights enemies and strategic objects. In the previous game, this was criticised as having no restrictions. It would be too easy to simply leave it on permanently and play the game with super-sight. Arkham City however places clever restrictions on this that feel natural. Essentially, while the new detective vision highlights enemies and weapons, it obscures the environment somewhat. Leaving it on all the time will make it significantly harder to discern the room’s details further away. You also can’t view other directional info with detective vision enabled. This forces you to be more tactical and is a definite improvement.

Most of the gadgets from the first game return, with many of them unlocked from the start of much earlier in the game. There are even a few new ones. The game adopts the Legend of Zelda model, and uses the gadget progression model to lock you out of certain places earlier in the game, keeping you moving through the story to explore further. You can use the in combat also, but they’re mostly superfluous and unless you’re trying to get your trophies/achievements, you’ll probably never use them.

Arkham City is a definite step forward from Arkham Asylum. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is better in every way. It is an excellent game, but Asylum offers a more tightly scripted experience that moves from scene to scene with precision and timing. City looses a lot of that by going open world, but what it gains in return is a sense of forward momentum, a real reason to play the sequel. Most importantly, Batman: Arkham City is not a game to be overlooked by those who aren’t necessarily Batman fans. It’s a really great game that would appeal to all kinds of players.

Assassin’s Creed II: Review

I’m currently playing through Assassin’s Creed III which arrived as a very well thought out present from Santa. It’s not  a bad game, but it has got me thinking about the highs and lows of the series so far. I posted my review of the first Assassin’s Creed a few weeks ago and had some nice feedback, so I thought I’d share my review for the sequel. As with the first review, this was originally written for Dooyoo.co.uk in 2010, and I’d like to say my writing has improved a little since then. My opinions haven’t changed however, so here they are.

Assassin's Creed IIAssassin’s Creed II

If I were running my own little award ceremony for video games, Assassin’s Creed II would have to be a strong contender in the “Most satisfying creative development in a sequel” category… it would also probably be the only contender.

In my review of the first game I praised it highly for being an original, interesting game that had a strong sense of being developed by invested and enthusiastic developers. While it had flaws aplenty, it never felt lazy or cheap and it earnt a lot of respect from me on that basis. Assassin’s Creed II continues down that path excellently while really taking time to correct some of the flaws of the first game. The final product is a game with great characters, an entertaining story and unique, addictive gameplay. Because of this it is easily one of 2009’s best titles.

The games framing narrative takes place in a future where protagonist, Desmond, is using a device known as an animus to relive the memories of his ancestors. While the first game placed you in control of 12th century assassin Altair, the latest outing sees you controlling renaissance Italian, Ezio. Part of the noble Auditore family, Ezio moves from one iconic city to another, fighting against a sinister conspiracy. The Knight’s Templars return as adversaries though the story is significantly more exciting this time around.

Ezio Diving Assassin's Creed IIImmediately Assassin’s Creed II benefits from a more interesting setting. The game will take you through cities such as Florence, Venice and Rome and its free climbing gameplay allows you to scale reproductions of some of the most fascinating and beautiful buildings in the world. Coupled with some truly beautiful graphics, the game is almost as inspiring as the cities themselves and it is a joy to look at and a joy to play through. In this world is a collections of characters ripped straight from the memoirs of Casanova as well as real life figures such as Leonardo DaVinci and the infamous DePazzi. The renaissance is not a common setting for a video game but it works excellently and it is one more way in which this game works to define its genre.

Exploring this world is made a little easier this time around with quick travel spots letting you jump back to previous cities, though you can always take a long journey by horse if you’re patient. Smaller towns and settlements are scattered all around and exploring every region would take a long time. Townspeople, thieves, courtesans and messengers populate every city, everyone has their jobs to do and they’ll get on with their lives while you do your thing. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re exploring a living, breathing world and the game accomplishes this moreso than any other.

As before the main thrust of your goals involves hunting down targets for assassination. This time around there is more variety to your missions and more flexibility in accomplishing them. It’s nice to see a game in which failure to complete a mission a certain way will not force you to try again, most of time you need only achieve the ultimate goal. On top of this there are a variety of messenger missions, side quests and collectables. The repetitiveness of the first game is gone and forgotten.

Assassin’s Creed II is my favourite game of the year, I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in action games.