ABZU Review-A whale of a time

29 Sep

If Journey swapped out the mystique, scarves and the dessert climate, replacing them with scuba gear, an ocean and plenty of fish, ABZU is exactly what you would get. You won’t be surprised when you discover the creative director behind Journey is illuminating this underwater adventure title, but you should appreciate ABZU’s modesty as it attempts to beautify the symbiosis between man and underwater inhabitants. Forgive the cribbing and you’ll have an indulgent time in this dazzling and reflective downloadable, that like its spiritual predecessors, is full of heart, wonder and meditative experiences.

Providing you have wandered around in any of ThatGameCompany’s games, you will immediately understand ABZU as an unobtrusive and calming game where you solve light puzzles and explore the sea life; watching the kelps and other aquatic plants sway and bow underneath you, while you spiral and swim with the wild life under the sea. There is a majesty to swimming with a company of fish surrounding you like you were in a Disney or Disney Pixar production, which coalesces to the meticulous sense of wonder and harmony ABZU cleanses itself with. The unbridled aura of it all ensures you’re not soon to forget about any of the pleasures ABZU serenades you with.

Taking less than three hours to complete, ABZU is not intended for those who value length of play over substance. However, if you want to indulge in a few hours of harmonious underwater exploration, ABZU will get its hooks into you. Like those that have come before, ABZU is fills its time with light puzzle solving and unlocking gates to the next area. If you want to head for the finish you can do so, but you’ll be missing the hidden trinkets in this delectable underwater world. Ruins open up eloquent fountains and ancient etchings tiled on the walls. Some areas are more foreboding, but for the most part, your undersea excursions will be cheerful, playful and bountiful.

You are also able to interact with the sea life, grabbing onto them and using the PS4 controller to guide them and the player character to desired destinations. Several moments in ABZU are breathtaking or otherwise joyful and sorrowful. When you choose to intertwine you will get the most from ABZU because the marriage between underwater diver and underwater creature cements what the adventure is all about, sharing moments with the submerged populace. If you’d rather soak in ABZU by watching, then you can meditate by interacting with whale statues. You can peer and discover a wide selection of fish and underwater mammal, and even see them devour each other, not in a bloody mess way, but in a survival imbued way. Then there are explosive trinities you’ll have to watch out for, nothing but a nuisance obstacle that interferes with the calming energies that ABZU constantly gives off.

A few bugbears dent the experience somewhat. The loading times are quite lengthy, which seems quite silly to say in the eighth generation console cycle, but they still exist. You can’t interact with fish or the chirpy yellow bots beyond their primary usefulness. Selecting the fishes in meditation is also clunky, and you can only discover the names of the fish, there are no biographies detailing facts and mannerisms, which dampens the intrigue of finding all the creatures the game has to offer.

Despite some general knit picks and its distracting similarities to Journey, ABZU is by itself a lovely adventure, taking the time to let the player swim and splash around in a world often dormant to human activity and often left unexplored in videogames. The grace ABZU harnesses is elegant and you will find the game to be a celebration of the aquatic. If you don’t go looking for a deep plunge, you will not be disappointed with the calmness and beauty effortlessly exuded in ABZU.

+An underwater adventure game with heart and joy at its core,

+An effortlessly mesmerising game,

+Interacting with the sea life.

-Cribs from Journey a bit too much at times,

-Loading times are a bit extensive,



Fallout 4 Review- Irradiated Success

17 Sep

Discovery is at the heart of most Role Playing Games. Digging and traipsing the innards of vast, varied and unpredictable worlds is a large part of what makes the genre irresistible and enticing besides the accumulation of hours you pack into your adventures. What you don’t find however, is a super mutant stomping towards you hand-cradling a miniature nuclear bomb as though he was your son dashing up to you and showing off the model ship he just crafted, only this wooden ship explodes in your face and bursts him (and potentially you) into bloody chunks of limb and carcass on the concrete floor. Surprises in the Fallout world are abundant, ensnaring you in a false sense of safety at one moment, and relaxing you the next. You feel calm and chilled when you interact in a friendly settlement, but are monstrously eager to accrue experience and rid of enemies when you’re embroiled in all-out warfare. Fallout 4 retains and the patented necessities but crams in a ridiculous amount of perks, abilities and stuff to craft and build that Fallout 4 is to Fallout what GTA V was to the GTA series, a massive, incomprehensibly explorable open world with too much to do and so much to upgrade that you’ll feel overwhelmed with attributes you want to assign to your character. Within these depths Fallout 4 finds a nuclear bomb’s worth of excitable playtime, but all the gameplay improvements under its external core is what empowers Fallout 4 into the annals of true excellency.

In convincing Fallout fashion, you start your journey in Fallout 4 in a swanky urban neighbourhood, full of colour and cheer and growth. You own a house, you have a beautiful wife and now a baby has entered your life, some life for a ahem “nuclear family”. Another 20 minutes or so later your wife is killed and your child is taken away to a place called “The Institute”, where robotic figures called synths come from, who can embody the appearance of real human beings, but are really just cyborgs, or terminators for the less erudite among you. The quest is simple- find your son, but like many RPGs, there are a myriad distractions and the road ahead is long, complex and very destructive. You spend your opening hours finding sanctuary, both literally as the name of the first settlement you encounter, and figuratively as you gather your bearings and find allies to help you forward on the traversal towards the freedom trail. You’ll meet various factions, exchange barbs and quips with them, ally with them, turn against them, all to move forward to the central goal of finding your son.

Like the Fallout games that have come before, Fallout 4 is an open world wasteland embedded with hostility,conflict and a nuclear factory’s worth of radiation. You can go anywhere you please, but keep in mind there are ferocious settlements infested with super mutants, rotting feral ghouls and raiders. Be sure to tread carefully too because there are various poisonous creatures and nasties like mirelurks that aptly ‘lurk’ near lakes and open water sources, and an assortment of flying monstrosities that spit bile. Beware of deathclaws and Yao Gai too because they will not relent until your limbs are torn asunder and you’re nothing more than roadside meat. Just in case you enjoyed Codsworth’s company at the beginning, know that if you try to get smitten with assaultrons, they’ll happily explode in your face, so beware of robots and then some. Like its predecessors, Fallout 4 does a tremendous job of making the wilderness feel like a dangerous place. You need to feel secure in yourself everytime you head out with a hefty ammo supply and an overdose of stimpacks to ensure you don’t end up being savagely mauled and unprepared for the threats you encounter. Thankfully you’ll come across a range of friendly neighbourhoods too, allies who will help you out and potentially become crucial to your progress in the game. You will want to head straight towards Diamond City as it is the jewel of the Commonwealth and there are always interesting things going on with the townsfolk. You’ll also want to dive right into the history and politics of each area you visit because you will be embroiled with information from the citizens and the numerous terminals you unlock and holotapes you pick up on your excursions.

As you can tell, there is a seemingly endless supply of information in the Fallout 4 Boston Commonwealth, but even this pales in comparison to the substantial strides Bethesda has made in making Fallout 4 a remarkable RPG to play for hundreds of hours. Apart from the familiar scavenging for loot including caps, ammo and other supplies and surprises, the base game has seen a positive mutation, a feistier, meatier, meaner, more malicious and macabre Fallout than ever before. Attacking with projectile weapons feels tastier than ever because your enemies react to each and every blow, and a single whack from a heavy weapon will splatter their greymatter all over the place. Using conventional weaponry feels more devastating too because manual firing no longer feels rigid and unsatisfying, but can be just as gruesome as when you decide to utilise V.A.T.S. You won’t feel like Fallout has morphed into a First Person Shooter, but you will feel like the franchise’s versatility is richer and more enticing than it has ever been.

The perks you receive for levelling are vast and cater to any kind of Fallout player. There are seven types of skill you obtain and the more you rank up any, attribute the more skills you’ll unlock for that set. There is an autonomous level of choice in Fallout 4, allowing you to play in a multitude of ways, offering you plenty of incentives to challenge yourself and choose perks that rival your comfort zone. Sneaking is a great alternative to using weapon based upgrades, as you’re more likely to feel empowered by a far less messy option. Then again, the Mysterious Stranger is a godsend to players who aren’t yet tuned into the world and need an extra pair of hands to finish off scoundrels. Then there are rewards tailored to companions. Dogmeat, your friendly canine companion can chew up and thus distract enemies, while benefits are given to those who wander without a companion, so you can live up to being a true loan wanderer. Perks from previous Fallouts such as lock picking and terminal hacking are still very useful to have as they provide easier and faster gateways to access otherwise unreachable areas. Upgrades to weapon modifications are addictive perks to have, swapping out attachments and forging your own Frankenstein of destruction. The levelling up system in general is tailored to the longevity of the game, meaning you won’t find it easy to stop playing, which is ultimately how impressively large and in-depth Fallout 4 truly is.

Crafting is another monolithic area of Fallout 4 that should be sampled. Early on you meet Preston Garvey, the leader of the Minute Men- a group of Commonwealth defenders and loyalists. Garvey encourages you aid a litany of settlements by eliminating pests and solving their problems. Once you’ve accomplished tasks for them, you’ll be free to assign unused companions to those destinations and you can help them harvest food, as well as build defences for them and setting up radio beacons.

The crafting station affords you the luxury of building your own settlement as you see fit, meaning you’ll have to forage components from the scrap you get by demolishing whole buildings and dismembering objects to grab the necessary raw materials. Wood and steel are common and will be contained in almost every object you find, but scouring around for gears, oil, plutonium and such will require further rummaging. There are a few knitpicks with crafting though. Firstly, you can’t build anywhere and a green wall shows that you can’t craft beyond the indicated point. Object placement can be a pain and will annoy those who have a thorough vision of how they want their settlement to look. You’d think Bethesda would throw you a bone after all that salvaging you’d have committed to, but instead building things is tempered by the rules the developer has applied to it. If you’re completely bummed out and not knowing what to do with crafting, then the pleasure of doing it will be lost on you.

What’s even more irritating is that there are many missions with Garvey where you’ll have to craft and set up something using the system. Sure, it gets easier the more you do it, but this insistence on building and maintenance comes off as a chore, seeing as Garvey’s missions are on the main quest line this is even more frustrating. Then he has an endless supply of settlement based missions to send you on and they repeat themselves ad infinitum.

One small but worthwhile component to the game that is totally badass, is you can hop into a fully fortified suit of armour. Congratulations, now you are quite literally a walking tank, but be cautious of the damage you’re taking because just as is the case without it, the limbs of the armour can be damaged severely to a point that you might as well be wearing a loin cloth because a damaged suit of armour is a useless suit of armour. You’ll need to keep the power topped up with fusion cores which are fairly rare to find unless you know where to locate the nearest hostile sentry bot, once you’ve minced it there are usually a couple of cores nestled inside. Power armour can be stored at inside yellow hangers at particular locations and the specific location of the armour can be found as an icon on the world map, so you won’t lose it and can track it down as fast as you want to boot it up again.

When there is Fallout there are usually a lot of bugs and not always of the radroach variety. Crashes, irritable framerate drops, awkward and stiff animations- Fallout 4 can be a technical wasteland at time which can have a detrimental impact on the game’s stain power. For as remarkable as Fallout 4 usually is, its high standards can be easily offset by a game breaking hitch that can be hard to forgive, especially if they happen repeatedly. Nothing in Fallout 4 should be so intrusive as to be a total turnoff, but considering the stellar scope of the game, the bugs stick out a lot more than they otherwise would.

Downgrades besides technical problems also exist. The conversation response options are no longer a list and boil down to four types mapped to each face button. Pressing x usually results in a positive karma response, with circle being negative karma, square usually being an alternate response such as a sarcastic option and triangle is often a question stemming from the information you receive. The problem comes down to the lack of knowing what will pop out of the player’s mouth. For instance a sarcastic response might yield some clever wit, or it might be too disrespectful and your companion may not like what came out of your mouth, then again they’ll criticise everything you do if you have a companion lugging about with you.

What can’t be denied in Fallout 4 is just how sumptuously varied the wasteland is. Sure there’s still plenty of rubble and rusty bombed out vehicles to go round, but this time the colour palette is pleasing. Bright blue skies in a Fallout game? Yep and they look sharper than the faecal matter of a bloatfly. Environments look distinguished and are populated appropriately. The hospitals and some of the hideouts look quite samey with collapsed floorboards acting as makeshift ramps and the facilities looking like haphazard copy and paste jobs with their labyrinthine layouts and similar looking rooms, yet some of the bigger friendly areas such as Diamond City and Goodneighbour are bustling with life and activity; inspiration is imbued with personality in the latter settlements, as there is a strong whiff of the noir genre permeating like streams of cigarette smoke throughout.

As seems to be the case with Fallout’s presentation, it can be very misleading. Look at the pipboy and the smile plastered across his face when you see him on the upgrade menu or on the titular device, he seems happy go lucky does he not? Then you listen to the classy soundtrack all about love and uranium and being a super cool man about town. All of it is so misleading, the wasteland is full of nastiness and all you see and hear externally from the world around you is a bunch of spurious positivity. Uranium fever might have gone and got you down but you sure won’t be singing about it, you’d just reach into your Pipboy, cross over to your inventory and press on the RadAway. If you’re powerful enough to treat your enemies like ticks you can flick off using your thumb and index finger, then maybe the music will be a suitable companion on your journey, until then stop listening to The Wonderer, because that song will only make you want to feast on dead raiders and jack you up on Psycho to make you furiously made for about thirty seconds. It’s worth noting at this point that certain drugs gift you special abilities such as Jet, which slows down time so you can shoot more accurately and avoid incoming fire.

There is no measuring stick to quantify how successful Fallout 4 is in enhancing the series’ gameplay mechanics and overall autonomy. Fallout 4 is a substantial achievement for Bethesda, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are one of the finest RPG creators in videogames. The Commonwealth of Fallout 4 is staggering, its size is enormous and the fear of treading outside of it matches the comfort of strolling inside of one of the pleasant friendly areas it has to offer. Fallout 4 balances contrasting emotions like it balances the worth of the game depending on how much time you decide to sink into it and getting to know all the nooks and crannies it goads you into trying and applying. There hasn’t been a game so polished but so plagued since Deadly Premonition, but unlike the latter, you seriously have to appreciate the magnitude of Fallout 4 to understand why it will cease up occasionally. Fallout 4 is far from perfect, it will cause you more than a few annoyances and there is still sizeable room for improvement, but were this the last Fallout game ever released, well Bethesda would have unleashed a nuclear bomb of hard-working excellence right on top of us all with the radiation spreading endlessly around the globe. Fallout 4 is fractured but fully capable of providing many hours of top quality entertainment, and that is what truly matters.

+An unfathomably huge wasteland with excellent writing (most of the time) and heaps to do,

+A full blown gameplay design upgrade from previous fallouts, feeling as visceral as the world around it,

+The Commonwealth is inspired and the locations are diverse in so many different ways that we no longer have to compare it to the dankness of its predecessors,

-Not clean enough to squash the bugs,

-Preston Garvey, the Minutemen, the crafting and settlement missions-all boring,

-The main story is perhaps the least interesting part about the entire game.


Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review- A Bang or a Whimper?

6 Jul

Nathan Drake has lied to us all. Regardless of the relentless strain he subjects his body to by stretching his arms to grab ledges, tumbling over and through structures, snapping his body back and forth from left to right against exposed objects, and leaping, sprinting and scraping away from certain death, he told us he was done with this life. After three gruelling mainline servings of Nathan Drake’s exploits through a skittles palette of natural and sinister environments riddled with all sorts of antiquated treasures and historical etchings, it would appear the fourth entry brings the journey of the legendary treasure plunderer to a close; but not before he bounds through one more scrumptious circus of puzzle-solving, action-adventuring, wise-cracking and antique scavenging. The final exam for Drake turns out to be every bit as delicious as its predecessors, but has it lost something sacred along the way?

After an action sequence eerily similar to Drake’s fortune, we find that Drake has given up on his adventurous lifestyle. He works for an excavation firm, has receded to a peaceful life with his wife Elena, and it would appear that he sucks at playing a certain PS1 era videogame, not to mention he plays in the attic with a plastic gun and a few targets. You’d be forgiven for thinking all this tomfoolery in the early chapters is misleading, but with a title in a franchise this prestigious, you should expect a feathery calm before a blighting hail chucking thunderstorm.

Once business picks up and Drake embarks on a fourth whistle stop tour. You and your brother are off to uncover Henry Avery’s lost treasure and literally follow in the footsteps of the dead. Along the way you are invaded by mercenaries sent by the two villains Rafe Adler and Nardine Ross, who are also after ancient riches too. Ross is a super tough woman who can whip Drake’s backside if he so much as pop a cheap wisecrack her way, and Rafe is a disgruntled man bloke dude guy, who has a desire to have all the riches he wants like a spoiled rat.

The finale of Uncharted 4 is both strong and startling in how disappointing it is. The closing chapter isn’t difficult at all, and isn’t fuelled with as much malice as the best videogame finales, in other words it doesn’t make you bubble with the same visceral drive that you’d expect, especially from Uncharted. Maybe it’s because the central villain is comparatively weak compared to the other games, or maybe the poor construction derails any potential excitement, in any case Uncharted 4 leaves something to be desired. Luckily the epilogue redeems the disappointment somewhat by reigniting the familial aspects that specially characterise Uncharted 4, parting with us in a warm and comforting way that is much needed and appreciated.

The opening few chapters of A Thief’s End play like an imminent reunion leading to an actual reunion. When the opportunity arises thanks to Sam, Nate’s brother, Nate reluctantly but confidently obliges for one more globe-trotting go round because American Pie’s cast reunited, so why can’t a treasure hunter and his pals? Despite the cliches, Uncharted 4’s story is set to its usual high standard of production values including great voice acting, a pair of interesting villains, wonderfully realised natural landscapes, the usual Naughty Dog sheen and who can forget the eye-gasmic sight of Drake’s sopping damp clothes after taking a dip in a river? It’s like he rubs baby lotion all over himself. Save for the thoughtful inclusion of a literally dirty Drake adding to a calender’s worth of images of Nate being peppered and engulfed in the elements, Uncharted 4 doesn’t add a lot of surprising newness for a series that revels in it.

This time Drake is off to an assortment of idyllic locations such as the green and grimy pastures of Madagascar and up to the shivering highlands of Scotland. Along the way he will pause and embrace crisp horizon views, dive underneath vast teal and aqua blue oceans and swim with the corals to unearth hidden treasures and discover crumbling ship wrecks. If this description didn’t clarify it enough for you, Uncharted 4 is a glorious visual spectacle, dripping in detail off Drake’s weathered brow. Similarly the sound design is right up to standard with the series’ best, so no surprises, the production value has always been of the charts.

By this point we’ve bare witnessed to a plethora of exceptional chair-gyrating moments from Uncharted. Admit it, your head bolted through the ceiling when you saw Drake almost getting swallowed up by the front-gushing wind as he desperately and narrowly clawed onto waving plastic mesh, whilst cargo boxes flip and role past you. Your veins almost slit through the skin as you fired your way upwards in the train section in Among Thieves. Oh, and you got giddy when Drake was dangling from a rope, getting dragged along concrete and dirt. Ok, ok the latter demonstrates Uncharted 4 does possess a few exceptional moments, but the momentum is downplayed somewhat in the service of emphasising the importance of the narrative. Uncharted 3 was like a heart attack because it threw you recklessly into setpiece moments like a carnage strewn symphony, and that’s what made it incredibly special to some, whereas the story felt like a backdrop. Uncharted 4 by comparison is more conservatively paced and provides a workable balance between the action and the story, but in trying to harmonise its components, it doesn’t excite as much as it should, yet it does offer a more fleshed out story because of its decreasing bombast. Whether you are experiencing medias res, or taking on a flashback sequence with Nate and Sam as kids, the story flexibly and conveniently ebbs with eloquent intrigue and funnels you through some really tense and climactic moments.

Where Uncharted 4 does succeed is with its puzzle sections. A chapter that takes place in a clocktower has you contending with climbing up cogs, gears and even messing with the hands of a clock face to proceed forward. Another great puzzle involves you walking carefully across wooden boards and trying not to combust yourself by walking where you shouldn’t. Sure, there are an array of familiar symbol matching puzzles as well, but it is clear that Naughty Dog has managed to think outside the box again in refreshing new ways, creating a bigger scope without the need for guns and explosions, therefore helping to alleviate any potential lingering disappointment elsewhere in the campaign.

Stealth is a property of Uncharted 4 that has seemingly unchanged, yet probably for the better because it was brilliant anyway, but there are a few annoyances. Firstly, why is it that Uncharted 4 insists on loving the shrubbery as relates to hiding? To be an avid stealth assassin, Nate nestles himself amidst the foliage with Sam and the old fart Sully, and you all move about without suspicion within it. This is fine because The Last of Us had Ellie roving about unseen to the AI, but why are there green shrubs and long tall grasses everywhere to hide in? Hasn’t stealth moved past this since MGS3? As a result Uncharted 4 can feel too boxed in, with each hostile area a zone for a couple of different play styles, though the versatility is limited as the story anchors you in, appropriately ensuring you’re on the right path, so silent stealth sneaker or bullet banzai are your only true personae on Uncharted 4’s battleground. Not that this is a bad thing, far from it because you now have the ability to mark targets a la Splinter Cell, making espionage about rapid planning and executing, fast like everything Uncharted is known for, still holding up well on PS4.

The multiplayer is in a word needless. There is value here and it plays exquisitely, but there’s barely any sense of progress or competitiveness to it. Two teams have at it, both killing members of the opposing side for treasure and the team that reaches the point threshold once the time limit expires wins. There is some fun to be had when the grappling hook comes into play, but for the most part the offering is a straightforward shooting and clambering affair. There simply isn’t the replay value in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, so your experience may be relatively short lived, unless you just can’t get enough of Uncharted’s often irresistible gameplay flow.

Uncharted has held up to almost a decade of continuing existence. There are spectacles in Uncharted 4 that wouldn’t have been possible before and this old dog has learnt several new tricks, so there’s no need to take him out back and pull the trigger. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still has the moxie to impress after eight years and it does so with its own panache. Some might dispute its quality amongst the series’ elite, but there is still no denying it has everything a Playstation gamer could ever want. If Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is truly the end for Nathan Drake and his entourage, then the send off is a fitting if slightly disappointing one, but remember you’re still in for a hell of a ride nonetheless.

+A worthy conclusion to an outstanding videogame franchise,

+More intimate and familial than before, making for an especially touching and inviting tale,

+A far more open and expansive Uncharted than previously seen.

-Multiplayer is ok but feels like an unneeded tacked on extra,

-There’s not a lot surprising here,

-The final chapter is underwhelming and disappointing.


Firewatch Review-This Fire Burns Bright

28 Jun

Life on your own can get you down. Henry, the main character in Firewatch sets out on hikes as he is permitted to do as a fire watchman, embarking on this lonely job just so he can gather the funds to visit his seriously ill wife in Melbourne Australia. But don’t fret, though he is almost literally on his own, he carries a walkie-talkie which he uses to converse with a woman called Delilah and the two banter back and forth like they were genetically related. Firewatch is more than just about two humans verbally exchanging with one another though, as you will find out as the plot thickens and the drama starts to vigorously shake proceedings up several notches, so that you start feeling a sense of unease and helplessness as the narrative slithers towards its peak.

Firewatch is a dazzling game first and foremost, drenched in a mixture of bright yellows and reds, it’s easy to think of its visual identity as the most eye-bleedingly beautiful Indie game on the PS4. The vistas are gorgeous, encouraging you to slap that share button on your controller, but the eloquence of the verdant horizon views echoes the closeness and familiarity Henry feels in this environment, so his surroundings hold a purity beyond sight to accentuate simultaneous feelings of homeliness and isolation.

Without his wife by his side, Henry treks along Wyoming’s wilderness with his backpack and a walkie-talkie. Along the way he can nix supplies from several cache boxes by first opening them with a simplistic combination code; the contents of these typically includes map locations, notes and pointless tat like pinecones and rocks. The most meaningful item in the game are strands of rope you can use to abseil up and repel down rocky cliff sides to reach otherwise inaccessible surfaces. You can also utilise an axe to chop down trees and cut through branches to reveal pathways, but is used to minimal effect like most of the other items in the game.

You aren’t challenged when playing Firewatch, all you do is follow instructions. Delilah will ask you to set out across the map where something important has happened, but when you get there you’re often disappointed to find nothing you hiked there for, then you follow more instructions and proceed to travel to another point on the map where the story progresses, but again nothing exciting takes place. You feel like a voyager, a traveller who witnesses some impressive sights but the engagement with your environment feels minuscule because the narrative demands your fullest attention. When you have vast opulent landscapes to explore, you don’t want to keep following objective markers. In this way Firewatch fails to provoke your curiosity because a lot of the time you are too busy trying to progress through the story than interacting with the world around you.

Compounding the issue is the awkwardness of using the map. Whipping out your map and finding the location of where you need to go is easy, but navigation is fiddly and you can’t look at the map and explore at the same time because if you attempt to do so your treading will shake the map, so you can’t simultaneously walk and find your footing. Another annoyance is that getting from one spot to the next fails to alert you to obstructions and Firewatch is too linear to give you the leeway you’d need to make travelling easier. Being met with an unexpected mountainside on your journey is a hassle and when you don’t have the equipment you need to traverse the environment with ease, you’ll realise that finding and searching are more integral to the gameplay experience than immersion and fun.

All this negativity might paint Firewatch as trite and unconvincing, but the minor decisions you make throughout do craft the lightest sense of you having any impact and agency in its world. For example, before you know what’s going on at the start of the game, you get the chance to read reams of text, not only setting up and contextualising the game’s narrative, but offering you some options pertaining to your relationship with Julia and how you respond to Delilah when bringing her up. Do you want kids? Do you want to take care of Julia yourself? Player involvement goes beyond you acting as a surveyor and participant, but when no other characters matter besides you and Delilah, you’ll end up feeling everything and everybody else is superfluous by comparison. There are other characters in Firewatch, but your investment in them is very limited. Case in point there is a boy you get to know towards the end of the game though you never actually meet him. Something happens to him and any emotional weight carried by what you learn is soft because you weren’t given enough time to know him as a person. As a result, Firewatch seems persistent in ensuring your interactions with others aren’t as strong as the bond you have Delilah, making you wonder why any of the other characters matter at all.

Let’s cut Firewatch some slack, it’s clearly a beautiful Indie adventure title with two entertaining characters and a lushly constructed setting. The ambience and the nature of exploration make Firewatch a trip worth taking as the drama is pulse-raising and there are a myriad of flourishes that accentuate Firewatch’s presentation. There is a calm presence about patrolling Wyoming’s forests with nothing but the voice of another human muttering through an interactive radio device at you. If the story could have somehow made your presence more expressive in this world, we’d have a truly marvellous title that would rightly place Firwatch amid the upper echelon of PS4 titles; alas it doesn’t quite achieve the excellence that it clearly had the potential of grabbing and hoisting proudly because of a few bruising gameplay stumbles. Still worth splashing out for though.

+A gorgeous and refreshing setting,

+The drama is very compelling,

+Henry and Delilah’s banter is exceedingly good.

-Traversing has a few problematic kinks,

-The map is awkward to use,

-The story tends to cut off the sense of wonder and openness of the world.


Gone Home Review- Gone but not Forgotten

15 Jun

Gone Home is the cat’s meow, you’ll see what this means when you’ve discovered the foreboding interiors of Gone Home’s titular house. You begin your exploits facing a couple of huge double doors, behind them lies a Resident Evil-esque hall with a staircase just ahead of you and branching doors off to the left and right. The house is quite aptly yours, as you see it through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl named Kaitlin Greenbriar in the year 1995. Within this perspective lies a compelling, exciting and voyeuristic mini-adventure in reading and listening. You’d be a total quack if you love literature but don’t get on with this game, it’s a wonderful experience that bolsters the PS4s Indy specialisation.

Some detractors will say in obvious frivolity that Gone Home isn’t a game. Such lethargic remarks should be ignored because Gone Home is most certainly a game. The game in question is voyeurism, the act of watching, or more appropriately in this case reading. By reading and interacting with the world, you uncover artefacts of a teenager’s life, her parents and her journeys abroad as well as her social interactions and interests. The stylishness is rooted in 90s girl culture, the excitement of misadventures and the difficulties of teenage life. You might be walking slowly most of time and picking up junk, but this is a world you inhabit and you can tamper with most things in this world. So to clear things up, this is indisputably a game, and a pretty damn good one at that.

Your central objective in Gone Home is to find twenty-four journal entries around the house so you can piece together the story on your own. You’ll be rummaging through the place like a noir detective, trying to grab every piece of insight you can in order to understand the story and the characters. Some places are hard to locate and you might be searching around a lot to find all the diaries, but the payoff is worth the effort.

Gone Home doesn’t take long to complete, only a couple of hours tops, but there is much to see and discover. School reports, books, posters, fanzines, tape recorders, tapes, notes, safes and more can be found by moping about and massaging your curiosity. The rooms themselves are like sanctuaries of youth and kinkiness, check out the parents’ bedroom for some titillation and Katie’s for teenage angst. Hidden areas and lockers provide giddy motivations to unlock secrets that enhance the story, so there’s always an incentive to explore.

You can access modifiers to improve your experience in Gone Home too. You can start with all the lights turned on and all the doors unlocked or you can turn on developer diaries, which you’ll be able to listen to whilst walking about the place. You should take it all in because there is a great slice of intrigue if you decide to listen to every single diary and read and listen to everything in the game. Gone Home is as short or as long as you make it, not so long that you’ll top up more than five hours mind, but you can do a lot of digging to make those hour go beyond a couple if you’re willing to. There are even hidden references to videogames and films in here, showing the nuances and influences of Gone Home.

Don’t be fooled by the length of Gone Home, divert and you’ll find a house stuffed with 90s ephemera and plenty of nourishing documents and paper with words on them. There is no question that Gone Home is inspired, but it manages to have a personality and beauty all its own, characterised by the place and time in which it is set. For the Playstation 4, Gone Home is right at home as an Indy title fully capable of arresting your inquisitiveness. Play it and find out that Gone Home isn’t merely a slight walking simulator, but a full story composed of pieces if paper and assembled into a whole by the player.

+A Home full of ephemera is nostalgic grace,

+Many influences beautifully integrated into the home,

+Developer commentaries are a delightfully generous inclusion.

-Ok, it’s too short……for some,

-Not for the illiterate or those who hate to read,

-The girlie upward inflections can irritate.


Unravel Review- Thread For Success?

15 Jun

You have to forgive Yarny, the cute little cat-eared figure in Unravel, he’s been pulling the wool over our eyes. Yarny is not simply a piece of yarn, he is a living yarn sewn creature, Furthermore, the abilities possessed by this living spool are conspicuously tethered to his frame. He revels in thread-swinging, latching onto objects like his meagre body depended on it and dabbles in the occasional waltz through dark caves, gloomy forests, abandoned factory machinery and snow blitzed terrain. He is quite the avid explorer but for all the jaunting about he has managed to get himself tied up in a few knots along the way.

At the outset, we are introduced to a nameless old woman sitting and staring mawkishly at a picture frame. Her frail, time-weathered lips pull a smile and a mild nod, before retracting into a serious look as though under a realisation that what she sees doesn’t exist anymore. She then stands up and heads towards an erect staircase, pauses and gazes at a photo of a baby, then proceeds up a few steps before a red ball of string tumbles out and rolls along the floorboards, thus Yarny is born. After somehow managing to clamber over some wooden furniture and pitter-patting across a green table layered with photographic iconography, a plant confined in white porcelain, a metal teapot and a small lit candle, Yarny somehow wonders outside as a ropey red trail marks the passage of stringy and stretchy wanderings.

The eloquence of visual storytelling along with its rousing orchestral score is most impressive, evoking and manipulating the heartfelt themes. The feeling of lonesome wondering is made even more inspiring as you witness Yarny traverse a symphony of environments through the seasons, occasionally juxtaposed by office and factory settings to bring the mood closer to what you would see in Flower and Journey. Natural landscapes are sometimes swapped for murky structures ensuring Unravel’s tone is as flexible as Yarny himself.

Correlations to the aforementioned ThatGameCompany titles are where the problems begin for Unravel. When Yarny is subjected to dangerous obstacles like electrical wires, you’re reminded of Flower as you attempt to steer petals through gloomy fields avoiding electrical cables. Likewise, when Yarny unites with his yarn sewn emblems at the end of each level, you’ll feel an aura akin to playing Journey. Unravel has a hard time trying to find a distinctive voice despite having its heart stitched in the right place.

Unravel is a straightforward platformer where you’ll use Yarny’s spools of yarn to lasso onto objects to swing across chasms, solve a variety of basic puzzles and create makeshift trampolines by tying up yarn between two points for Yarny to bounce and leap upwards in order to grab onto exposed ledges and higher ground. Sparingly there are breathtaking moments where Yarny ties himself to a kite as it sails across the sky, and takes a ride on a sled across a stream, but such moments are agonisingly rare. Now if Unravel directed its attention towards these potent moments instead of constantly incorporating simplistic yarn puzzles with irksome physics, it would be a more splendid adventure. And as far as those object pushing puzzles up a bespoke rope ramp is concerned, they are so tedious, yet you’re required to do these several times which- like the gameplay in general, leans on familiarity and basics to get by, ironic when you consider the sentiments represented through its presentation are anything but basic. The final level of the game is the most irritating, let’s just say you are going to need some patience here otherwise you’ll want to throw those specially woollen socks your mum made at the TV screen, they possibly stink anyway.

If you go into Unravel with expectations of an emotional rollercoaster ride, you won’t get it. However, it is still full of heart and sweetness that it is hard not to fall in love with Yarny because he’s such a jumpy little explorer. Yet these emotional harnesses fail to contain the gameplay like the woman’s straw basket failed to contain the red ball of yarn that falls out birthing Yarny. Inspirations trump unique ideas here and if you are happy with Unravel swaying this way, you’ll find solace. For the rest of us, we would be blundered by blunt-force deja vu and gameplay so repetitive and simplified it grates on the nerves.

+Lovingly sewn together just like Yarny is,

+Some joyous moments to be witnessed,

+Its sentimental value is easily appreciated.

-Takes cues from other similar games without much uniqueness of its own,

-Basic and repetitious gameplay spoils its potential,

-Physics are ropey to say the least.


Quantum Break Review- Quantum Conundrum

25 May

No, no before you get waylaid by the cringe express train, this new sci-fi action title from Remedy entertainment certainly isn’t advertising a product from a popular dishwasher cleaning detergent. You won’t complete the game and utter the words “finish Quantum” because if you did you’d be finished too. Anyway this action title has been a long time coming, but now it’s here and it feels less like a cutlery cleanser and more like an amalgam of clothes bundled into a washing machine. You’ve got your third person shooty action, some time bending powers to upgrade and use prominently, platforming sections where you jump a lot and solve environmental puzzles, and maybe most deliriously of all- you get to watch a TV show that bridges the narrative of the main game. Suffices to say Quantum Break throws around a lot of ideas and it can become too ambitious for its own good, especially considering all the cliches. Ignore what your mind is telling you though, and you will find a unique and fresh if mildly overblown action title.

Playing as everyman dullard Jack Joyce, you start out by heading to a university campus, the students of whom are in the midst of a subversive campaign against an evil corporation called ‘Monarch’, who are shutting down various important buildings to make way for new developments; when they invade the university’s library, the students get pissed (no not in that manner) and they protest by sticking fliers up and leaving information and e-mail accounts open for all to ogle.

The real story lies inside a research facility on the campus, where you meet your supposed best friend Paul Serene as he tries to demonstrate to Jack his discoveries in the realm of physics. Paul has stumbled across an invention, a time machine that utilises chronon particles. Unfortunately this experiment goes awry after a jamming of the machine, and Jack’s brother Will comes by to ratchet the tensions up further. Things get a bit more exciting when the chronon radiation spills onto Jack and Paul, who both now possess time manipulating powers and wouldn’t you know it, they are protagonist and antagonist too. So as ludicrous as it sounds a botched experiment leads to two friends becoming enemies just so a hero/villain dynamic can be put to work.

Key events in the plot take place that fracture the relationship between Paul and Jack further, but what’s more interesting is you get to control Paul towards the end of each gameplay episode and decide what actions you are going to take. The choices only give you A or B type scenarios, but the feeling of control as you the player make these decisions gives you more of a personal investment in what is going on, as well as gifting Quantum Break with a reason to replay the story beyond a single sitting. The TV episodes attached to the gameplay portions serve to build intrigue into the world of Quantum Break, but appear to be designed to draw attention away from the ‘game’ aspects unto the visual, because maybe Remedy thinks planting a television drama next to gameplay segments is a cerebral thing to do. In actuality however, this marriage of film and game is jarring and although the idea is quite fresh, as gamers we should pay to play not pay to watch. It doesn’t help that the characters and the story of the show aren’t much better than in the game itself, but hey at least there is a consistency to the mediocrity. To give the production some credit though, it adheres to all its tropes with avid consistency. As for all the logs, diaries and e-mails you’ll happen across, it’s all needless excess, padding out a world with more information and less depth. How can we care for what is happening within the world if all we actively do as gamers is read lines of text? You’ll simply collect every factoid and diary in the game for the sake of collecting, which is the antithesis of how Quantum Break should be explored.

Much like Remedy’s previous title Alan Wake, Quantum Break (yeah it rhymes) is a third-person shooter, platformer and sci-fi action title, sharing more than a few canny resemblances to its spiritual brother. One of the most notable of the similarities is how both games play like episodes of a TV show thriller, with interludes and lulls in the action so you won’t be contending with prolonged shooting sections. Both games also centralise the narrative around complex subjects such as the subconscious in Alan Wake and time in Quantum Break.

Where Quantum Break aptly breaks off and drifts away from the Alan Wake is in how limiting the space around you is. You are usually tasked with operating in cramped environs, making shootouts claustrophobic with little room to manoeuvre. The enemy types too are run of the mill with hazard suited goons and swat team members giving you the majority of trouble, oh and a few heavies with Chronon tanks strapped to their backs. The Monarch squads are the most interesting because they exclusively attack you when time has frozen and plus they can teleport at a moment’s notice, making them a bit tougher to gun down. As you’d expect, late game scuffles are particularly difficult but if you play on the normal difficulty you can get by just fine after a few retries.

Though the range of enemy types don’t impress, the abilities you possess can keep the action sequences engaging. By collecting Chronon particles, you can level up your time abilities to protect you when you’re pinned down. From a teleport dash to a vortex Jack can summon by using his bear hands, messing about with time allows you to feel greater dominion over your foes. QB is far from a superhero action game, seriously who would plaster Jack’s stern face onto a superhero costume and make him look believable in it? But the powers are such that they nurture and uphold the intricate sci-fi elements of the plot without making them seem tacked on, though the upgrades are superficial when compared to other similar action games because all of the augmentations present you with marginally improved stats such as extending the duration and destructive field of your time powers.

Environmental puzzles consume another part of your gameplay time. You’ll press Y to interact with silhouettes in order to obtain important narrative objects, unlocking your progress towards the next area, and there are several anomalies you’ll have to trounce with your time bending powers. For example, you might have to use your transportation ability to help you avoid obstacles such as evading collapsing shelves and zipping rapidly to enter through doors that continuously bash together like a demented toddler smacking two Rubik cubes together. Then there are platforming bits where objects shift in and out of reach as you climb up crates, boxes, stacks and strewn vehicles, calling back to Alan Wake’s strange shape shifting environments and twisted ambience.

In truth, all of this time manipulation feels rewarding and there is more than enough of the stuff to make Quantum Break a rewarding alternative to its fellow contemporaries. The implementation and the variety of ways time is used to advance the narrative and flexibly contract the gameplay are even more reasons to acknowledge Quantum Break as a premier XBOX ONE exclusive. At the same time, it still feels lukewarm when the weapons that shoot bullets are in your hands. As ambitious and ultimately successful as Quantum break tries to be in offering multiple avenues to test your fantastical time tinkering tools, you might feel short changed by how infrequently they come to excite during firefights.

The visual flare too is quite pompous. Like every big triple A game released this generation-it looks very sharp and it is a show piece for the XBOX ONE if you can stop thinking about FORZA or HALO for a second. The TV show and its impact on the game’s visual personality seems to demonstrate the importance of looking ravishing alongside the need to innovate and stand apart from the competition. Couple the looks with the voice acting and the writing, and you will find the best and worst parts of your average TV show. Great voices and dumb lines of dialogue go hand-in-hand in Quantum Break, but this uneven quality feeds into the game too despite how refreshing a game it is.

Don’t go into Quantum Break with the feeling you know what to expect. There are many elements at work in its design and they are full of the good and the bad. This mishmash of quality coalesces to accentuate the uneven nature of its existence. Developed with the hubris of mimicking a TV show whilst making the characters inside and outside of that show flat and generic, Quantum Break plays around with your expectations so you feel fully immersed. There is a certain level of genius in how it manages to play like a sci-fi TV show whilst aping one also. You can’t however, ignore the main problem, it isn’t a TV show. When Quantum Break remembers that it’s a game, it delivers an intriguing mixture of puzzles, platforming action and problem solving on top of the cover-based shooting action. The A or B method of shaping how the story and the TV show is also commendable and layers in the depth of the story, along with all those e-mails and narrative objects you find strewn throughout each level. This all allows Quantum Break to flourish and become a top-tier XBOX ONE experience. But If you were to strip off everything which makes Quantum Break a TV show without the delectable voice acting, and place more personality into the upgrade systems, then Quantum Break would be the best XBOX ONE game out there. As it stands it is impressive and different but also a confusing hodgepodge of things and ideas escalated by a TV show format it relies too heavily on to make Quantum Break stand on its own two feet as a videogame if videogames had feet.

+Excellent variety and balance of downtime and action,

+The voice work is very strong,

+Time manipulation is awesome,

-TV show presentation obscures its videogame qualities a bit too much,

-Characters are uninteresting, the females in particular are portrayed negatively,

-After the first level, the game world starts feeling a bit shoehorned.