Monthly Archives: February 2016

Opinions on… Life is Strange

Throughout the years, I have played hundreds of video games. Out of those, there’s so many that I have no doubt enjoyed quite a lot. Yet in my eyes it’s much more difficult for a game to make the jump from being good to being amazing. Achieving this takes much more than a game simply being fun in my eyes; it has to really stick in the memory, leaving me thinking about it for many an hour after it’s been turned off, and perhaps going on to subtly bleed into my life or thoughts months after I’ve stopped playing. It’s those sort of games that become lifetime favourites to me, and Life is Strange accomplishes doing these things in so many ways it’s stunning.

Life is Strange, in short, is an episodic game about Max Caulfield, a high schooler who tries to decipher the dark secrets of the sleepy little town she lives in alongside her friend Chloe Price. So far, so cliché, you might say, but things get much more complicated when you take into account Max can rewind time. From there, everything is flipped onto its axis; each turning back of the clock can potentially affect the characters and everything around you in drastic ways. And these are complex, well written characters – there is many an occasion where you are forced to re-evaluate your opinions on someone as the game moves on, and there’s never a situation where you can get a clear read on anyone straight from the outset. Everyone has multiples elements and flaws to their personality – even the main character, Max. Your early impressions of her can easily be fairly negative; she’s timid, self-pitying, and slightly selfish. But this only makes her and everyone else feel more real, making you care for them even more, and really making it so you hope that you make the right choices for them.

And it’s in these choices where the game shines so brilliantly yet again. Life is Strange does not shy away from tackling some deep and serious issues throughout its story, and at many points you are left with big choices that are actually highly morally ambiguous. There’s no clear right or wrong answers here, and while the ability to rewind time and change your mind might seem welcome, it doesn’t make things any easier. It’s a testament to developers Dontnod Entertainment that when looking at the percentage breakdown of what every player chose at the end of each episode, so many big choices are split fairly evenly down the middle. Your choices therefore stick in your mind for a good time after you’re made them and even turned the game off – what could you have done differently? It’s disappointing the final episode comes down to a binary choice of ending, but the journey there is impressive in the way it feels remarkably personal.

The thing is, however, that as much as I may be making the game sound like a masterpiece, that’s actually really dramatically far from the case. Life is Strange has many an issue that can’t be ignored; dialogue can sometimes be incredibly clunky and off-putting, trying to capture teen slang and often missing by a wide margin. Lip synching is also extremely poor, often not even getting anywhere near matching what characters are actually saying. One pivotal scene saw lip-syncing actually fail on me completely, removing the drama of what was going on a large amount. The list of issues doesn’t even stop there; the actual gameplay, for instance, is often lacklustre, and perhaps even dull. There are points where you’re forced to do menial work collecting pointless objects, and while there are some clever time travel puzzles in there, there’s many more that descend the game into menial trial and error.

The list of criticisms could go on; the tone and pacing of the game wobbles weirdly at points, characters can look a big flat and emotionless, and so on. Yet for every negative there is another positive; the game’s Cinematography is second to none, for instance, and the use of music to add depth and gravitas to certain scenes is another point worthy of note.  Overall, however, I feel it’s important with Life is Strange to not look at things as a list of positives and negatives, and instead to see it as something more than a sum of its parts; as an overall experience, it’s a triumph, successfully playing with your thoughts and emotions in a way that just makes you want to see more.

Life is Strange, therefore, in inarguably fundamentally flawed in many an area; but a game doesn’t have to be faultless to potentially become amazing. I can’t help but feel it’s a title that is going to stick in my memory for a long while to come, and perhaps that’s all the praise it really needs.


Opinions on… Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

While I certainly managed to extract some fun out of it, Assassin’s Creed Unity was objectively a bit of a train wreck. Multiple issues and controversies with the game led to massive fan backlash, with the end result being a title Ubisoft would rather pretend never happened. My main issue with Unity didn’t stem from these controversies, however, simply more from the fact the game itself felt a little… Well, flat. It was all a bit uninspiring and devoid of any soul, and for the life of me I can’t remember any memorable moments about it at all. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, therefore, had a lot riding on its shoulders; both in sustaining the franchise as a whole, and ensuring my interest in it continues.

Thankfully, Syndicate does a lot right in order to achieve these goals. The first of these positives comes in the shape on the game world itself; call me biased because I’m from England, but London does lend itself well to being a damn fun place to explore. There are tons of landmarks for you to clamber all over with reckless abandon – Westminster Abbey. Buckingham Palace. The Tower of London. That’s just to name a few, as there’s so many more out there just waiting to be found; even Tower Bridge manages to jump in on the action, via a optional sequence that takes place in the future. The landmarks themselves are just one piece of the puzzle, though. Each area manages to make itself feel unique; there’s narrow grimy backstreets opening up on to the hustle and bustle of the Thames, and then it’s only a quick jaunt away to reach the peaceful gardens of Westminster. Overall, the map just feels alive, drawing you in and making you want to keep going to see what you can find next.

There are improvements to the gameplay, too. The most notable of these comes in the shape of the line launcher, not only allowing you to climb up buildings at light speed, but also letting you traverse from rooftop to rooftop with ease as well. It wipes out the slow and laborious nature of having to climb all the way down one building just to climb all the way back up another, which always stunted the flow of Unity. Here, everything is far more fluid, and if the next Assassin’s Creed title doesn’t have the launcher it’ll be a serious mistake. Other changes aren’t as drastic, but are fun enough to be notable regardless; for instance, while the game is not going to win prizes for true variety, there’s a far greater selection of sub-missions and challenges to do than has ever gone before. These vary from simple assassinations to daring kidnap attempts, and there are also some entertaining distractions such as train heists and fight clubs to keep you busy and entertained. I had a strong compulsion to check everything off the to-do list, and I was never truly bored throughout the whole challenges of trying to capture the whole city as my own.

Some things work less well, however. There’s still far, far too many collectibles scattered all over the map, to the extent it’s simply overwhelming. Even if you do go for broke and try and collect them all, the rewards seem paltry – XP gains are low, and bonuses such as extra database entries are only going to appeal to a certain minority. The ability to form a gang also feels a little pointless – there’s a few passive bonuses they provide that have their uses, but actually partying up with gang members doesn’t seem to have a point. A common scenario can see you rally up a few friends to help, only to then quickly vault over a rooftop and never see them again. Even if they do keep pace with you, their usefulness is limited – they’re good in fights, but with quick wits you can win every fight on your own anyway, so what’s the point?

The worst issue with Syndicate by far, however, comes in the shape of the storyline. The overarching storyline throughout the series has now spun into a bloated mess – characters talk about things that I honestly knew nothing about, and there are moments where genuine confusion sets in, with this confusion quickly being followed by apathy as to what is going on. Taking the story told in Syndicate on its own doesn’t provide any better results. The characters are horribly one dimensional, to begin with – the male lead is brash and cocky, the female lead (Oh hey, I thought the game engine couldn’t do that?) the more quiet and sensible. Additionally, I almost started to be surprised that the main bad guy wasn’t constantly twirling his moustache in a dastardly way, due to the painfully cheesy way he’s scripted into things. Overall, there just never feels like there is any grand sense of drama, no semse of truly high stakes. All the game’s story can go is offer up the occasional fun mission to play, and that’s it; it took me completing pretty much every side mission the game had to offer before I finally committed myself to actually playing through it.

Overall, though, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is good fun to play; it does a lot right, tries for some innovation in the franchise (even if not all of it works), and generally creates something you want to spend your time with. It’s certainly better than Unity, at any rate – I can only hope the franchise continues on the brighter path Syndicate has started to take, because if it does, there’s a possibility for grand things ahead.

Opinions on… Lego Marvel’s Avengers

Even going from the game name alone, it’s hard not to see Lego Marvel’s Avengers as a step down from 2013’s Lego Marvel Super Heroes. For one, there’s less characters to choose from, including many which are definite fan favourites; Spiderman has vanished, the X-men are nowhere to be seen, and the Fantastic Four have also dropped out the cast listings. In their place come many variations of the same person just in different attire, along with a bunch of characters which only die-hard fans of Marvel stand a chance of recognising. The fact that the story is just playing through the Avengers films (as well as levels from a few choices others) also feels a bit of a demotion from the unique and varied story the older game had. Finally, despite being filled with new challenges, it’s easy to spot that the open world of New York here is just the old map with a number of tweaks. It’s all a bit underwhelming to take in; especially considering the feast we have dined on before.

The game itself also gets itself off to a strangely rocky start. The first level – based on the assault on Loki’s sceptre that takes place at the start of the second Avengers film – is a fun enough introduction, but it suffers from many a camera angle that feel way too far away from the action for you to stand a chance of making sense of it all. The bigger issue, though, is the pacing of the first hour or so – it jumps from the start of the second film, to the start of the first film (with a level that is, quite frankly, rather dull), and then suddenly goes screaming through the events of the first Captain America film without warning, in the second level in a row that isn’t exactly stellar. At points both I and my girlfriend (my Lego-loving co-op partner) actively found ourselves being annoyed at the game… Which, considering how colourful and fun everything’s meant to be, is a very bad thing.

Does this mean Lego Marvel’s Avengers is a complete wash-out? As it turns out, that’s actually far from the case. The game eventually settles itself into a groove and gets steadily more entertaining as you navigate further into the story, and take your first steps out into the many free roam areas that are on offer to you. The classic gameplay of hunting for objectives throughout the world, and then puzzling out the right character to do the job and claim your reward, also remains as endearing as ever. Sure, it’s not exactly difficult, but never mind the fact it’s a game for kids – it just doesn’t need to be hard to still be fun. Later levels manage to replicate some of the joy from some of the film’s best moments as well – the hectic battle with everyone fighting over the drill in Sokovia is replicated nicely here, for one, with Lego pieces flying everywhere is dramatic fashion.  Another good level takes place during the events of the first film; here, you fight Loki on Stark Tower as your partner flies around you blasting every enemy in sight, all whilst the Avengers theme blasts out your speakers with pride. There are tons of little moments like that, and it’s a great recovery straight back into that golden formula that has made the Lego games so enjoyable for so long now.

The thing is, though, is that the strict adherence to this formula has always created minor annoyances throughout many a Lego title, and personally it’s with this title that they are really starting to become much more of an issue. Each title has managed to quash some problems – skipping to a certain point in a levels to easily get the last collectable, for instance. Here, the improvements continue to be present, albeit grand in scale – you’re able to bring up area totals, for instance, allowing for an at-a-glance look of what you have left to do around you. Additionally, there’s no more waiting for a variation of a character to pop up in the one space they’re allocated any more, as now you can tap the shoulder buttons to zoom through them with ease. It’s all very subtle; but all very welcome, all the same.

Yet Lego Marvel’s Avengers has still not fixed many of the bigger problems that make the titles sometimes a pain to play. The main one of these by a mile comes from the co-op mode that is essentially the heart of the game – there are just so many actions that one player can take which completely hinder or obscure the other player’s view for way too long. Unlock a character, for instance, and a giant overlay appears over both sides of the screen, making it impossible to focus on anything. Starting a mission also removes the map for both of you, and completing certain tasks just completely shuts out the other player for a brief while without warning. It leads to many occasions where you’ll mutter “sorry” as your partner fails yet another race, merely because of your success in getting another unlock.

The fact that it’s still way, WAY too easy to glitch things and trap yourself, such as falling into a cycle of endless deaths and respawns, remains another bone of contention. While I and everyone else have yet to encounter anything game breaking, every glitch you encounter here continues to strike the fear that you won’t be able to get 100% any more into your heart – something any avid Lego game player can easily sympathise with. To be reasonable, it’s hard to see how this could be fixed – this is a big game world that allows for endless character combinations with lots of things going on, after all – but simply trying to be reasonable doesn’t stop the harsh reality that it’s possible for your enjoyable of the game to be stunted due to problems you’ve faced endless times before.

It sounds like I’m smashing the game into a thousand individual Lego pieces and calling each one rubbish, but part of the reality is I’m just being incredibly harsh; none of the criticisms I’ve noted kill your enjoyment stone dead, and indeed a lot of the irritants can be fairly easily shrugged off, or at the very least forgotten about after a couple of seconds grumbling. It’s just that the fact I love the Lego games, and the fact they’re been going for so long, makes it harder and harder with each title to just ignore the problems they have. Lego Marvel’s Avengers is a fine addition to the catalogue of titles; you’ll just find yourself wishing the whole catalogue would stop looking so frayed around the edges.