Category Archives: Discussion

Opinions on… Resident Evil 4

Hmm. This is a bit of a complicated one. It’s not a complication that stems from trying to explain what Resident Evil 4 is, because that’s fairly easy to do – it’s a survival horror and action hybrid, seeing you taking on hordes of violent villagers and sinister cultists in a mission to rescue the president’s daughter from a dark and terrible plot. Nor does the problem come from gauging the general public opinion surrounding it, which essentially sees it lauded as being absolutely brilliant and arguably one of the best games ever made. The fact of the matter is that the complication lies in the simple fact that despite this nigh-on critical acclaim, and against my best efforts, I… Uh… Don’t really like it very much.

It took me a little while to work out why. At first I thought it was the story; after all, the voice acting is laughably awful, and there are not so much plot holes here as much as there are plot ravines. Yet after the initial wave of cheesy lines were spoken in a manner that made me facepalm so hard my hand nearly came bursting out the back of my head, the sheer audaciousness of how bad the plot is becomes somewhat charming. This is a schlocky, over the top B-movie experience and the game knows it, with so many quotable lines being flung your way that any initial scepticism soon fades away into unbridled joy for the whole camp spectacle.  Nor was my problem the sound design, which is non-ironically excellent – with chanting, foreboding music and much more working together to create quite a menacing atmosphere throughout the whole journey.

My problem, it turns out to be, purely stems from the gameplay and level design choices that are on display here. There are just so many little issues and bugbears consistently appearing throughout, that they mar the core enjoyment that comes from merely shooting the bad guys in the face. To provide examples; some areas require you to stand and fight while others require you to flee, and often it takes far too long to differentiate between the two. In cases of fleeing, there’s no point even trying to put up any sort of combat effort, because enemies will just continue to infinitely spawn without warning. And, despite the escort sections being reasonably thought out, there were still too many moments which felt like I failed purely due to the AI behaviour being a little too unpredictable.

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On the issue list grows, with even core concepts of the game floundering – I don’t mind the idea of not being able to move when firing, but the reality is it doesn’t actually translate into gameplay that’s particularly riveting. It’s more of a case of fire at the enemies, run away a bit when they get close, then repeat the cycle. This comes to a head with the boss fights, whereupon in most situations you can dodge these eldritch abominations and their devastating attacks by simply slowly jogging past them.

There’s also so many rooms and areas that feel as if they only exist to burn away your time in some fashion – most of the roadblocks to your journey simply require you to get the funny shaped key for the funny shaped door, and that never proves to be a simple point A to point B endeavour. At one point I even came across a hedge maze and was struck with an overwhelming desire to simply turn the game off, such was my certainty in knowing I’d have to wander around for far too long shooting enemies that were practically destined to appear.  Anyone familiar with this game should also know exactly what I mean when I say “water room”, and I’m not having you argue that as the pinnacle of excellent level design.

I’ll concur none of gameplay faults listed above are truly horrific, and perhaps some of you out there would even find them endearing – defining traits of the series as a whole. Yet to me they just lower Resident Evil 4 down to a level that for the most part I would describe as “distinctly average” – a far cry from the flawless masterpiece that I was perhaps expecting to encounter.

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There’s a reason why I think this doesn’t feel like a stellar experience nowadays, however. Oddly enough, I think it stems from the fact that back at the time of its initial release, it was the definitive stellar experience. This was the game that invented the idea of the over-the-shoulder perspective in third person games. This was the game that also created the precision aiming system that went hand-in-hand with such a perspective. Heck, it could even be argued that it was this game which made quick time events into something that you can’t escape from in most action titles even to this day. If Resident Evil 4 didn’t exist, you most likely wouldn’t have titles such as Gears of War. Or Uncharted. You certainly wouldn’t have had a series such as Dead Space, and I could keep going with this list if you had several hours to spare.

Put simply, it was the title that set the benchmarks. Yet by doing so, it also devised the means by which it inadvertently shot itself in the foot. You see, so many games have since taken those benchmarks, and refined and honed them via a great deal of time and effort into something that approaches perfection. To therefore go from playing the polished titles of today to the system that’s in place here… Well, it can’t help but feel like a step backwards, a regression into something that can no longer hope to provide the same sense of satisfaction. In many ways, I feel like Resident Evil 4 should be considered a museum piece; something that should be respected, remembered, and admired. It’s just perhaps not something that should be taken out of its case all that often.

In summary, if you were to turn to me and ask me to recommend a good action title or survival horror, I’m not going to turn back round to you and say that you should be giving Resident Evil 4 a whirl. I simply ended up confused and frustrated too often for me to say I had fun with it, despite what it manages to do right. That, however, doesn’t mean I don’t respect the game for what it is and what it managed to do to the industry. If you’re looking for a piece of history or a trip down memory lane, you’ve come to the right place. Otherwise, I’d think twice before taking the plunge.

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Opinions on… The Mean Greens: Plastic Warfare

There’s a lot to be impressed by in The Mean Greens; Plastic Warfare. This thought began to occur to me when, after a good 15 to 20 minutes of waiting in the multiplayer lobby with no other players in sight, I began to realise how perfectly cheesy the music playing in the background was. It’s a delightful medley, one perfectly suited to taking pride of place in any respectable escalator, even down to the way it’s instantly forgettable from the moment you walk away. As time went by and many more minutes passed without a soul to be seen, it’s perhaps the only thing that kept me sane in those intensely dark moments of loneliness.

There were other things that did a great job at maintaining my sanity, however. The colourful menu screens were also helpful; the perfect tease for the vibrancy and craziness I could expect to be thrown into, once I’d mastered the arcane magic required to summon people at will to actually play the game with me. It gave me the same pleasure as knowing there’s a cake waiting in the fridge for when you arrive home from work; that anticipation of knowing that there is something to look forward to in your future. The fact that your journey home takes 15 years and the fridge is permanently locked kind of puts a dampener on proceedings, but hey… At least you know there is the tiniest possibility of getting cake. Or actual gameplay. This metaphor might be getting a little confusing.

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Riveting stuff.

The unpredictability present in The Mean Greens was another fun factor that kept me on my toes, and not knowing what would happen when I tried to search for a match proved to be gripping stuff. I could end up actually finding a match (unlikely), find myself in yet another lobby, or even be met with a loading screen that looks like it’s loading into a match, only to freeze and crash back to the main menu at a moment’s notice. It all proved to be incredibly uncertain and exciting, something that not many other games could offer in the same weird way. It wasn’t just trying to find a match which created such spontaneous moments, either. Imagine my surprise and delight when I tried to set the game to windowed mode, only for the screen resolution to completely mess up as a result. It created a situation where I was completely unable to click on anything, and was therefore required to force quit to desktop. I never knew what was around the next corner!

Persevere with this randomness for long enough, however, and with a little luck you might be placed into an actual match with a smattering of other desperate players – all of you finally free to play the game you’ve paid for. Unfortunately, this is where things kind of start to fall apart, because the gameplay just isn’t very fun. Take a good minute or so it to digest the poor quality soundtrack constantly on loop in the background, and then another minute to scour the map and find someone to shoot at, and you’ll soon realise that combat fails to provide any satisfaction.

For instance – shooting your gun doesn’t have any weight or sense of impact to it, making you feel as if you’re shooting marshmallows rather than bullets, and the simple task of knowing if you’re damaging someone or being damaged therefore becomes far more difficult than it has any right to be. Even getting a kill gives very little fanfare or rewards, therefore making all your efforts beforehand in taking the time to kill someone feel a little wasted. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

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Each map being a different game mode is also a nice idea in theory, but for one reason or another simply doesn’t work when put into practice. There’s one mode that sees you capturing flags on a speeding toy train. This sounds exciting, but it fails to feel action packed in the slightest, due to the way every death puts you so far away from the action it can take upwards of a minute to actually get back to where you were. Another mode presents almost precisely the opposite problem; you’re meant to float on rubber ducks to capture flags, but considering you can pretty much see and snipe anywhere from the spawn area (Up to and including the other team’s spawn), there’s really no incentive to ever move from your starting position. On it goes, map after map, the sparse amount of players only making games drag out their limited welcome even further. It’s enough to make you long for the lobby screen again.

With all sincerity, however, let me close off this review with an observation; there’s nothing wrong with ambition. Indeed, the developers of The Mean Greens should be commended for taking on the challenge of a multiplayer only shooter, especially when you consider how saturated the market is with them. The problem comes in the fact that I simply can’t help but feel that there should have been a moment where a healthy dose of realism was infused into proceedings. There should have been a realisation that this game, even with all best wishes, could have ended up as the barren wasteland that is has turned out to be. Measures such as the inclusion of bots in the future may not save this game or even make it somewhat appealing again, but at least they would create something that’s remotely playable playable. As it stands, however, this isn’t something that will keep you entertained.

(Initial) Opinions on… The Nintendo Switch

So! It’s been a long time coming, but the Nintendo Switch has finally emerged from the shadows, finally revealing its secret after months of speculation. That secret, of course, is that it’s a weird hybrid of a home console and a portable device, with a joypad that you can split in two, and then take those pieces and slot them on to other things… And it’s only when it comes to writing it down now that I realise how weird that all sounds. Anyway, the initial reveal has left many a thought pinging around my head, some positive and some negative. It’s a long journey ahead, that’s for sure, but join me as I break down my thoughts, and try and work out whether this is something that can ‘switch’ Nintendo’s recent fortunes…

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The one game I’ll never play… And why

You know, I’m an open minded kind of guy when it comes to video game. There’s pretty much nothing out there I won’t at least try, even if it belongs to a genre or franchise I’m completely apathetic too. I’ll ponder away at a puzzle title, command an army in an RTS until they all inevitably die in gruesome ways five minutes later, and (despite being the least athletic person on the planet) I’ll even play a game of FIFA or two given the opportunity. Yet there is one game out there that I refuse to approach; one experience that I dare not sample, for fear of what the dark and twisted results may be. That game is…

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The “Time Played” puzzle – How relevant is it?

I’ve written about the Steam review system recently, and how improvements could be made to encourage its brightest and best content to come to the forefront. Yet in my opinions I never really focused on the fact playtime is shown alongside a player’s review with fairly due prominence, and the simple reason for that is as follows… It’s way more complicated on a matter than I first anticipated. Allow me to explain.

My initial thoughts on the matter where that is simply shouldn’t be there – after all, it only seems fair that everyone’s opinions have equal value. Yet the more I considered it, the more I realised this doesn’t work in practice – after all, someone with a massive amount of time logged into a title is logically going to understand more about that game than someone who has just picked it up. Naturally, there’s no way of telling if someone has just left a game running on idle to clock up a bunch of empty hours, but a reasonable assumption can still be made that the player in question  knows the game’s strengths and weaknesses, and has uncovered all the secrets and subtleties that it may have to offer. Of course, this doesn’t mean any review they post immediately becomes gospel – perhaps it even adds an increased pressure for them to clearly mark out what makes the game in question so compelling – but it can add some extra reassurance to a well voiced opinion, therefore justifying the existence of playtime being there in the first place.

The question can therefore be asked as to whether reviews with a much lesser playtime (Perhaps bordering on the minute) actually lose their relevance. This isn’t the case all the time, but it’s difficult to say when it is true and when it isn’t. For one, the matter of playtime becomes entirely subjective based on the game in question; A quick arcade style game isn’t going to require many hours to truly understand, for instance, which a massive RPG style game set in a large open world might take a bit more exploring before someone can form an effective opinion.

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Enough time? Or not at all?

The above is pretty much a given, but it gets even more subjective when you start taking into consideration the nature of the player themselves. For instance, someone well versed in playing first person shooters is likely to race through such a title much quicker than someone coming across them for the first time… But it’s the inexperienced player who would be shown to have the longer play time, even though it’s the more skilled player who might be the best at explaining whether the game in question is a good or bad example of the genre. Likewise, fans of a franchise will more rapidly understand new features and spot improvements, and therefore be quicker to come to a (still reasonable) judgement than someone new to the series. Even subtle things like a person’s reading speed when it comes to a visual novel can notably alter their play time – even if, in the end, their overall experience remains remarkably similar to someone else’s.

To go even further down the rabbit hole, though, take a moment to consider basic human psychology… And yes, I am serious. You’ve probably heard of the idea that it only takes someone around seven seconds to draw up their judgement about a person. The same holds true in a sense when it comes to games – after all, it really doesn’t take long most of the time before your general feelings about a game really begin to take shape. Naturally, some titles might take more time to get going, and you should always be open to changing your mind, but as a general rule of thumb I feel the idea does hold true.

Take, for instance, my time and resultant opinions about Mad Max; it was only about one or two hours maximum before issues with its design and structure began to chew away at me, and further play only re-enforced those opinions. In short, there may be something worth taking away from someone’s gut instinct. That’s not to say that every review with 10 minutes play time should immediately be welcomed with open arms. It’s wise to approach these reviews with some wariness, and in most cases it doesn’t take long for the content of such a review to reveal a person’s lack of expertise. Yet on the other side of the coin, reviews with such a limited amount of play time should not be dismissed immediately, especially if they express their views clearly and concisely.

In conclusion, playtime’s a tricky beast to pin down.  Overall, I don’t feel like it’s something worth removing completely – as discussed, it’s a reasonably ok way to judge experience and how cautious you should be when looking at a certain review. It’s just a matter of making sure that when it comes to looking at the figure, it’s something that you should be looking at with a mind that’s aware of all the facts.

How to improve Steam reviews

Despite its many positives, it’s hard to dismiss the fact that Steam also has its many problems.  DLC for early access games, shady gambling sites abusing the trading system… These are only two fairly recent examples that come to mind within the scope of its long lifespan. Perhaps one of the most glaring issues, however, comes in the form of an increasing lack of quality control, with Steam Greenlight and the Workshop allowing a plethora or poorly made content to flood out. Yet it’s with Steam’s review feature that this ‘race to the bottom’ perhaps irritates me the most, with random gibberish and stale jokes frequently rising to the top sat the expense of more helpful and relevant opinions. Recent changes have set out to fix things for the better, but it’s clear a lot remains to be done – so what other changes can be made to help improve the system?

Well, in my opinion, there are a few changes which incur only positive benefit. Well, one change that I feel can only incur a positive benefit relates to the ability to mark a review as ‘funny’; put simply, it’s something I think should be removed altogether. It’s the ability to have your review marked as such that perpetuates such low effort jokes as “Still better than No Man’s Sky” and so on, yet such feeble attempts at comedy are simply not what a review should be used for. As Valve themselves believe, they should be used to inform a prospective buyer, giving them more information and letting them know a game’s positives and negatives so they can make an informed buying decision… Something ‘funny’ reviews simply do not do. I appreciate joking about a game’s quality and such is all part of the community spirit, but it’s not like there’s nowhere else on Steam such things can take place – the game’s own forum is the immediate example that jumps to mind here. It’s just unnecessary for it to happen elsewhere.

The second change I feel would contribute is allowing people to review a game without actually having to write anything. Such reviews would still count towards a game’s standing, but could appear as a simple line such as “<player> recommended this title” (or perhaps not appear at all?) in the reviews section. This completely wipes out reviews filled with gibberish and many of the simple one line summaries players post, freeing up space for more substantial reviews to take their place. It also makes sense on the basis I accept not everyone has an opinion they actually want to voice about a title – they simply want to let others know if they liked or disliked it. There’s a possibility this could be open to abuse, of course; allowing a review to be posted with one or two mouse clicks could allow people to flood a game with negative reviews using multiple accounts reasonably easily. Counter measures to this could easily be devised, however, and when all it takes is mashing the keyboard with your face to see your review be accepted regardless, it’s fair to say such reviews are already getting through the system anyway.

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The next issue is the problematic one, though. Currently, reviews marked as the most helpful by users (and therefore appear near the top of the reviews section) are a mixed bag – you have your actually decent opinion pieces mixed in with ones that really don’t contribute that much. So how do you make it so the former take precedent over the latter? The current method of giving full power to the users, as logical and noble as it sounds, isn’t really working in my eyes. Take a look around, and you’ll see that people’s voting patterns means that there’s hardly a game on the service where all the most helpful reviews can actually be seen as… Well, helpful. Yet it’s not exactly like Valve is going to step in to moderate the system any time soon, considering their notorious hands-off approach to most matters, never mind the fact there’d be a full scale riot going on if they were to go in and determine what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’. So what’s the solution?

Honestly, I’m not sure. The idea of giving powers to certain users to moderate reviews and flag those which don’t contribute played on my mind for a brief while, but with the recent fiasco regarding Youtube Heroes it’s clear that such a system just wouldn’t work in practice. What’s to stop a user flagging a review they disagree with? And surely it’s not our job to go around moderating Valve’s system in the first place? A more subtle approach is perhaps just giving slightly increased weighting to a user’s opinion on whether a review is helpful or not, based on how frequently their own reviews have been marked as useful. It’s an idea that I feel has some merit, but it poses its own problems – if someone posts a few poor joke reviews that happen to be praised by the community, the chances are they’ll use their increased influence to recommend similar reviews, which only perpetuates the problem. Valve themselves have stated they don’t want certain user’s reviews to over influence the system, so any sort of weighting would also have to be incredibly finely balanced. Done right, however, I feel like it could help, allowing positivity to breed positivity. It’s just doing it right (and in a way that doesn’t irritate a highly volatile user base) that’s the real issue.

I accept that perhaps I’m just being a highbrow elitist, trying to enact higher standards on a system that most users seem fairly content with just letting continue as it is. Yet with Valve themselves stating they are looking into the same matters and heading towards the same goals, and the end result of that waiting to be revealed, perhaps the suggestions above may have some merit to them yet. Here’s hoping that whatever happens, though, we’re left with a system that lets the quality that’s lurking within it truly shine.

Opinions on… Gunpoint

Gunpoint’s a clever game. It’s clever in all the ways you’d expect a good game to be, of course; It’s got a distinctive art style and soundtrack that effectively create the feeling of a noir-inspired, near future world. It’s also got a nicely refined difficulty and progression curve, holding your hand and building your strength without insulting you. There’s a bunch of other core gameplay elements Gunpoint does well – yet it is not really these that which make it so clever.

The first thing that really does this, and which catapults the game into being something more special, come in the form of its core gameplay feature – the Crosslink. In short, it’s a device that lets you rewire one device to another, changing the way they operate. This can be simple as wiring up a switch to open up a door instead of turning on a light… Or it can be as complicated as using a lift to trigger a sound sensor, which in turn turns off a light, causing a curious guard to wander over to the lightswitch, which electrocutes a socket elsewhere when flipped, which in turn knocks out another guard. It sounds confusing, but it’s surprisingly intuitive and easy to get used to; it’s not long before you’ll start to feel like a real Crosslink expert.

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This is clever in itself, but the real brilliance comes from the fact that’s there’s no real negative result to messing around with this power that brings your fun coming to a screeching standstill. Either your elaborate Crosslink scheme succeeds, making you feel like a diabolical mastermind, or it ends up falling apart, at which point you’re just eager to refine your strategy and work out what went wrong instead of being infuriated. There’s always the third result that your plan was so stupid that it ends up with a door swinging open and knocking you flying, you won’t care regardless, because that’s just hilarious.

Another way the game’s quite ingenious is that you’re free to play it however you want. Want to buy a gun and just shoot every problem you face? You can do that. Want to use your super jump to arc gracefully through the air and silently smash through a window like a twisted, trench coat wearing Spiderman? Go ahead! It’s possible for every player to have a different experience on a level just because of all the different ways you can approach each situation. I myself went for a no-upgrade run on my second playthrough, which presents its own challenges and its own little moments. The game itself even subtly reacts to your play style – there’s a nice easter egg for if you get too punch happy on a guard, and the story and future missions can even subtly change based on how you’ve played previously. Smart! Again.

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This ability to choose you own play style even leaks into the story – while your choices here don’t affect things that much, you can still choose to respond to your client’s calls deadly seriously, or just make endless deadpan comments and jokes about the absurdity of the situation. The writing’s witty and genuinely funny at points, and while the story itself got a little overly complicated for my tiny brain to comprehend as it neared its end, in general it’s compelling and has a nice few twists and turns that keep things moving well. It’s all… Well, I think you can guess what I’m going to say.

Overall, it’s hard to fault Gunpoint. There’s possibly an argument to be made that it’s a little short, but as noted above, there’s tons of replay value that comes in changing your technique, and the fact you can build your own levels is just more reason to keep playing. Overall, this is a smart and entertaining title that’s certainly worthy of your time.