Monthly Archives: March 2016

Life is Strange – In screenshots

I mentioned briefly in my opinions on Life is Strange about how good the game’s Cinematography is. So many shots throughout the game really do add to the impact of what is going on, and shows off its unique style really well; and even outside of cutscenes I found myself taking many a screenshot just because of how things looked.

So, below is a selection of my favourite shots I took while playing,  for your interest. Oh, and one more thing – MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW, so look away if you play to play the game!

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Opinions on… Just Cause 3

In many ways, Just Cause 2 was the sleeper hit of the last generation. Overshadowed by the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row during its pre-publicity, it came out to generally favourable reviews yet not much fanfare. Yet then word slowly began to spread that you could tie people to jet fighters and take off with them screaming behind you, or cause giant explosions that could level military bases in the most ridiculous of ways. Couple this with the endless YouTube montage makers that were the big thing at the time, and suddenly everyone wanted to be playing the game. And rightfully so – it was fun, it was chaotic, and it was worth your time and imagination to come up with the stupidest stunts you could possibly think of. So, with the dawn of a new generation of console technology allowing for even grander explosions and mayhem, as well as a now established fan base chomping at the bit for the means to act even more stupidly, surely Just Cause 3 could do no wrong?

Well, that’s where you’d be surprised, because it turns out that Just Cause 3 does many a thing wrong, in many ridiculous and infuriating ways. The core gameplay – that is, causing as much destruction as possible – does survive alive and well, there’s just so much inhibiting or preventing it it’s actually hard to know where to start. For instance, the ability for equipment to be airdropped in to you like in the last game has now for some odd reason been made significantly worse – there’s a strict limit on the amount of items you can call in with beacons, unless you restore your beacon total at certain points on the map that seem to be woefully irregular. This, in turn, means you can often be left stranded without in the middle of nowhere, with no ability to call anything in that might actually be able to help you. Even worse, call an item in and the game places an arbitrary time limit before you can actually call that same item in again – accidentally crash a helicopter 30 seconds after it’s arrived? Too bad, you have to wait fifteen real life minutes before you can have it again. To add to the problems even more is the fact that a massive chunk of the game’s remotely interesting gear is actually locked away from you until you liberate the right military base. Want to know which base that specifically is? Too bad. Game’s not telling you.

Manage to get past all that and actually gear up in a way you want, and often things don’t get better. You’ll enter a military base or town and start your attack, only to realise that a lot of the equipment at your disposal just isn’t satisfying to use. Practically every car or land based vehicle in the game handles horrifically and therefore becomes no fun to drive; likewise, so many of the guns feel like they have no weight or substance to them there’s therefore no sense of satisfaction when it comes to actually shooting them. Pulling out the rocket and grenade launchers does pump up the satisfaction quota a fair bit, but blow up anything that causes anything that remotely resembles large explosion and the frame rate will stutter horrendously, often taking a good while to recover. There’s no variety to capturing these bases or towns, either – liberate one or two and you’ll have done everything that you’ll simply be repeating for the rest; an endless chain of trying to blow everything up (It in itself a source of annoyance – the last item you need to destroy is never easily highlighted out for you, leaving you to do guesswork on the map), only for the cycle to monotonously begin itself again.

If you totally ignore the objective of liberation via destruction and try and get creative – the core of what made Just Cause 2 great – things still keep going wrong. Ignoring the issues with item supply  as noted above, half the cool stuff (like more grapping hook tethers, better explosives and so on) are locked behind challenges that you have to complete. You unlock these challenges by, of course, having to liberate towns. A lot of the challenges themselves aren’t fun either; feeling more like an arbitrary boring thing to check off your list than anything actually exciting.  To steal a line from Games TM’s review of the game, for a game that so heavily encourages the use of imagination, it’s disappointingly bereft of it itself. The game makes you work for your fun so hard at times it feels like it really wants you to actually stop playing.

It’s a shame, because when everything lines up perfectly, the game does offer up truly astounding moments. It’s fun to fire a cluster missile at a set of giant antennas, and watch as they come crashing down in a roar of fire and burning metal. Likewise, power yourself up and the ability to fling people round using your grappling hook, or tether them in unusual or downright weird ways, is something that doesn’t lose its appeal fast. There’s many other cool catches of brilliance on offer, leaving you laughing like a madman or looking on in shocked awe among many other emotions in between, and thankfully any issues the game may have can really help to diminish them.

Oddly enough, though, the game’s greatest accomplishment comes not from blowing things up, but actually just travelling around in order to reach the next destination to blow things up. The combination of endless parachutes, your grappling hook and the new wingsuit means flying around the island can be done with breathtaking ease. You’ll jump off mountains, the wind roaring around you, only to pull out the wingsuit and soar majestically inches away from the ground, weaving around trees and through tunnels like some sort of weirdly brilliant crossover of Spiderman and Batman. It helps also that the island of Medici, where the game is based, looks downright stunning. It’s not a map with tons to do on it, but the ability to navigate through its technicolour landscape in such a wonderful and exhilarating way proves to be the highlight of the game by a large margin.

It’s immensely disappointing that Just Cause 3 does end up getting so many things wrong, as there are moments of pure fun to be had out there. It’s especially frustrating because so many of the gameplay issues listed above should have been so simple to avoid, or at least so easy to rectify – yet we’re left with a game that just simply can’t live up to the promises it made by a long shot. In short, it’s that in itself which really provides a just cause for complaint.

Opinions on… Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Let me start by saying that I first started playing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate way back when it first came out in February 2015. Back then, despite a decent amount of time invested and all of my best efforts, the game never truly captured my attention – eventually getting shelved until my curiosity into the game got reignited recently. There were a number of reasons for this initial loss of interest, but chief among them is that Monster Hunter in general is incredibly unforgiving; especially to those who have not played the series before. MH4U does to its credit try and explain a lot of what is going on to you; but it’s up to you to decipher everything else, and to be blunt about it, the process of doing this is often not fun. There are other reasons at play why MH4U may not appeal also; for one, there’s a ton of micro management going on throughout, with endless inventory management and gear switching having to occur before you are ready to even step out on to the battlefield. For another, battles can rage on for a long time, and can lead to arduous attempts to keep focus and not give in. In short, it’s not a game for everyone.

However, it was clear on my first time around, and only accentuated on my second, that there are many things that the game does very well. For one, everything looks amazing – it’s probably not the best looking thing ever graced to the 3DS, but landscapes feel grand and epic, and monsters look incredible and move smoothly and gracefully. This fluidity is more important than you’d first think, too, as reading monster movements and how to get around them is a big point in staying alive. Managing to do this feels good also – the controls aren’t the easiest thing to master, but get them down and the feeling of weaving around a monster and releasing a furious combo against them has a great deal of satisfaction to it. This is all backed up to an amazing soundtrack that does well at getting the blood pumping – special mention also goes to the sound effects of monsters screaming and roaring at you during the fight, simultaneous being terrifying and also making you feel awesome about taking on such murderous beasts face to face.

And it’s that very last point which really makes me glad that I came back and gave MH4U another go – when things go your way, you really do feel awesome. Mounting creatures and stabbing their back to pieces is a big gameplay feature here, and one you’ll be doing a lot, yet it never gets old – your character handing on for dear life, desperately hacking away as the monster flails around like crazy trying to throw you off. It’s not even a complex thing to do – it basically involves pressing one of two buttons at the right time – but it quite simply never stops being cool.

There are tons of other moments that make you feel like the world’s biggest badass also. For instance, chasing down fleeing monsters, or chopping off monster parts and seeing your foe get visibly weaker, both end up making you feel like the coolest hunter alive. I personally also had one of the biggest ‘ punch the air’ celebrations I’ve had in a long time with this game, as I took down a massive elder dragon at the point where one more measly mistake would have killed me off completely. The thing is, everyone will get those sorts of personal triumphs, and they will all be unique to themselves – and any game that can make you feel like you’re the coolest person alive like that deserves credit.

Playing online can also emphasise this feeling, and also creates a new challenge it of itself, as you learn when it’s best to attack or to back off, as well as making sure you’re not getting in everyone else’s way also. It’s a bit weird to try and give an opinion on the online gameplay at this point in the game’s lifespan – most of the players remaining online are super high level now, meaning that the early fights I need to do to advance tend to be ridiculous cakewalks when playing with anyone like that – but it’s fair to say there’s still fun to be had. Get the right group of people (always the challenge with pretty much any online game ever) and you will end up feeling awesome all over again. For instance, I had a brief moment where someone swung their sword in such a way that it flung me in to the air and on to the top of the monster – a brief hint of awesome that still makes me grin like an idiot when I think about it now.

Anything else worthy of note? The grind you have to do to unlock new gear probably is. It’s a staple of any RPG or game like this, but it can still be frustrating here; especially when the completion of so many armour sets or weapon upgrades rely on getting one item that drops a ridiculously low percentage of the time. It’s worth knowing that going in, but it’s not exactly alarming to see either, nor a giant fault of game design. There’s a few other tiny issues here and there – the single player story is just weird, for one (Especially if you even consider to start to question what’s going on) and the lack of voice chat online is baffling, especially how co-ordinated you sometimes have to be. Still, these are points of tiny frustration, and not things of any major game breaking worth.

Overall, then, MH4U is a highly satisfying and challenging game to play, and a game that I am so glad that I took a second chance on. It’s still not a game for everyone, and a major part of that comes down to how hard it is to break open that outer shell of gameplay difficulty, as discussed above.  Still, I now personally eagerly await Monster Hunter Generations to roll out this summer, so I can spend hundreds of hours hunting away… And feeling like a badass all over again.