Category Archives: Discussion

Opinions on… Dirt Rally

It was after only five minutes of gameplay that I knew I should have heeded the warnings.

It was as I watched my car lying smoking at the bottom of a ravine that I realised the discussion surrounding Dirt Rally spoke the truth. Put bluntly; this game is hard. Almost ridiculously so. You’re not going to be casually flinging yourself around corners with the greatest of ease within your first hour, picking up one victory after another. You’re much more likely to underestimate what you are getting yourself into, as did I, only to see your hopes of easy glory be chewed up and spat right back out. This is serious business, and in response it’s going to take a serious effort to even hope to come out the other end unscathed.

In some ways, I can’t help but feel this is a downside to the game. At times it feels extremely vindictive; where a single mistake doesn’t just lose a few seconds, but holds the potential to cost you the whole tournament you’ve been desperately trying to win for the past few hours. It doesn’t matter how perfect you’ve been racing or how skilled you are – screw up for the briefest of moments, and only plentiful use of the restart button will save you from unrelenting despair. It’s a strange experience, and one that can at times both be incredibly disheartening and extremely frustrating.


Now don’t get me wrong – I get it. I know this is what Dirt Rally wants to be, and that there are no second chances in the real world of rallying. I therefore can’t begrudge it for what is clearly an active design choice. Yet it still remains something that I feel really has to play on your mind before deciding on your purchase. Put simply; if you’re not up for a great degree of brutality being flung your way, you seriously shouldn’t be here.

Yet such pain does not come without reward.  Because, slowly but surely, you learn what it takes to succeed. You discover how truly essential it is to pay attention to your co-drivers instructions. You come to understand that crests and dips in the road are as important as its twists and turns. You learn when to go aggressive, when to shy away from speed, and how to save yourself from near disaster. Put it all together and – Bam! – You’re suddenly thinking like a rally driver. You’re absorbed in the moment, doing everything by nigh-on instinct, and at moments it’s possible to forget you’re actually playing a game at all. As an attempt to capture the experience of being a rally driver goes, Dirt Rally can certainly be called a success.

With the sense of this experience, of course, come the feelings that go with it. There’s an actual sense of dread to situations where you plunge through deep forests or skitter on the edge of cliffs. Equally, there’s a real thrill to truly nailing a corner correctly, hitting its line perfectly and zooming away with a burst of speed. It’s the middle ground between the fear and the fury which I love, though – the knowledge that everything is within a moment of falling apart, yet you’re managing to maintain control by the very edge of your fingertips. If you manage to win an event (which is honestly no mean feat), the sense of pride that you’ll take in doing so is very real. It’s not a hollow, easy victory. It’s something you’re worked hard towards and achieved, and the fact the game can invoke so much happiness from such a thing is to be commended.


So before the menacing demeanour, there’s certainly some satisfying gameplay to be found. It’s therefore just a very nice bonus that such gameplay is also presented in an extremely good-looking way. At points things really do visually shine; dust clouds plume up behind you, and your car amasses dirt and grime as time rolls on, making you truly look well weathered. Crowds are people in general are disappointingly plain, true, but overall this is a pretty good looking game at times. The audio, if anything, is even better. Not only does every car’s engine road and growl roar in an incredibly pleasing manner, but there are loads of little touches to be heard as well. Bits of rock ping and rattle off your car, brakes squeal and squeak when put under pressure, and the roar of the crowd passes away in moments as you surge forward. It really adds to the overall immersion of the experience, in a way that a generic soundtrack blaring away every single race could never hope to do.

Overall, then, Dirt Rally may have a menacing appearance, but give it time and effort, and there’s something that really shines bright and true underneath. This certainly isn’t for everyone, and it pays to be acutely aware of that. But it equally doesn’t stop what’s there from being incredibly thrilling, mildly frightening, and just a whole heap of fun.


Opinions on… Dead Cells

With so many different titles on offer nowadays, it takes great effort for any single game to truly capture your imagination. There are plenty out there that provide their fair share of fun, but that’s the easy part. The difficult part is finding one that truly sticks in your mind – something that captures your thoughts long after you turn it off, and makes you crave for the time that you’ll be able to turn it back on again. Dead Cells, therefore, is a rare breed – a game that achieves not only that feeling, but does so with almost breathtaking ease.

To explain why, it’s first necessary to explain what Dead Cells actually is… Yet that’s actually a little bit difficult to do. It’s perhaps the developer’s own coined term of it being a “Roguevania” that best describes what’s going on here. Take the gameplay of Metroid and Castlevania, throw in the elements of a good Roguelite such as randomly generated levels and items, and then blend thoroughly. The result sees you exploring 2D dungeons filled with hordes of enemies to smash and bash your way through, all in your quest to find skill-improving scrolls and ever more powerful weapons as you desperately fight your way towards the end.

What that gameplay description really fails to capture, however, is how lightning fast, silky smooth and just damn satisfying this game is to play.  There’s a constant visceral pleasure in basic combat, such as rolling deftly past an enemy attack and them smashing them into a pile of giblets and gold. Combine this with the skills you can collect, though, and things get really interesting. How about using a magnet grenade to drag your foes into a set of spinning saw blades on the ground? Or using a bear trap to snare an enemy and then setting the whole floor on fire around them? Soon your first tepid steps towards each new enemy encounter fade away with time and practice, to be replaced with you slicing and dicing through the hordes like an absurdly terrifying ninja. That feeling of power and pure skill never gets old, and even when a single misstep has the potential to cruelly end your rampage, the desire to keep hold of that feeling makes it so you’ll be immediately eager to dust yourself off and try again.


What truly makes Dead Cells so compulsive and fun to play, however, comes in the shape of the very cells that grace the game’s name. In simple terms; cells drop from killed enemies. Pick them up, get to the end of the stage, and you can use them to unlock more weapons and abilities or – crucially – permanently strengthen your character in some way. This can include getting a health potion that carries extra doses, upgrading the equipment you start off each run with, and a whole bunch of other stuff besides that.

It’s a simple enough idea, but it’s an idea that completely changes how Dead Cells plays. To give an example, it encourages you to actually explore every level and get into as many fights as possible, because the more you do that, the more cells you obtain. Secondly, it makes every run feel like it has purpose, even the ones that are dramatically cut short or feel doomed from the start. You could limp to the end of the first stage and immediately die on the second, but the few calls you collected in the process means you still walk away with a sense of forward progress – no matter how small.

Think that’s all? Nope. Cells also provide a nice little bit of a risk/reward factor; get to certain doors in time or fight particularly powerful foes and you’ll be richly rewarded, but in turn greatly increase your risk of an untimely death. Keep hold of all the ones you collect without spending them, and you can also reach a point where the ability to permanently upgrade items is presented to you – a tantalising prospect, but a reward you’ll have to stay alive long enough to reach. It gives you something else to think about on top of everything else – play it safe, or risk it all? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this simple mechanic is what really fuels that pure “one more go” factor – there’s always new items to work towards, something fresh and exciting to splash your hard earned winnings on. Overall, it’s an excellent system, which adds so much depth and fun to what was already a highly enjoyable base experience.

Dead Cells isn’t without fault, however. If the game suffers a main issue right now, it’s in balance. There’s a fair few items and skills that just feel like they’re objectively better than what else is on offer. Perhaps the prime offender of this comes in the form of anything that carries the ice effect, allowing you to freeze your foes in place while also slowing them down once they thaw. This immediately removes most of the threat anything carries – it’s hard to be afraid of something that’s moving at a snail’s pace, after all. When you’re beating bosses with ease due to the fact they’re basically permanently stationary due to the sheer amount of ice skills you’re spamming at them, that’s when you truly start to get the sense that things are getting a little bit ridiculous.


Many other items also have the opposite problem of feeling that they have very little practical use. The whole subcategory of shields falls foul of this – even with the bonuses they confer, it’s vastly easier just to roll past attacks instead of trying to perfectly time your blocks to achieve said bonuses. Overall, the whole balance issue is not one that is game breaking, but it does stint the variety of your runs somewhat. You might start with good intentions and take a shield, but once things start going south you’ll likely fall back on your old crutches – and that’s a shame.

Honestly though, that’s my only real gripe with the game, and indeed the only thing that truly gives away the fact that it’s in early access. The only other problems I’ve ever encountered are a grand total of a single crash, and one run where the map generated in a way that made it impossible to progress. Both of these things shouldn’t happen, I don’t deny it – but compared to the woes and misery given to gamers via other early access titles, these faults feel like a very minimal dent to the overall experience. Overall, everything here just feels so polished and fun to play that even at this stage I’d have no issue with purchasing this as a fully fledged title. Put simply, don’t let the feeling you might be buying a half finished or broken product put you off Dead Cells, because the reality is that’s far from the case.

If you’re looking for one final argument as to whether you should buy this or not, put it this way – I bought this title in late December. In the brief time before 2017 ended, this title still had such an impact on me that I’d consider it one of the best games I played all year. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s just downright fun – your purchase of Dead Cells should be a Dead Certainty.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.