Silent Hill 2: Directors Cut (2003) Review

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Recently, I finished my second play through of Silent Hill 2 this time based on a proper PS2 version instead of the sub par HD collection version. How is Silent Hill 2 in 2016?  Still one of the best horror titles around.

Emulating this at a high resolution, one of the things I immediately noticed was how good the visuals look, considering the actual assets of the game are about a decade and a half old from a system two console generations ago. Everything looks highly detailed, grimy and dirty with an aggressive noise filter on top adding to the grittiness. It doesn’t look perfect in all areas of course with some textures being low res, but the overall detail remains incredibly high and so does the series signature fog effects. Shadows are stark and expressive and so is the lighting. At one point in the game, I was backtracking through the apartments and got back to the second or third floor, with my flashlight off, forgetting that I hadn’t killed the mannequins up there and I got one hell of a fright.

In this Silent Hill venture, which is mostly stand alone, with the cult aspects of the broader series lore lurking in the background at best, has you play as James Sunderland, a man drawn to the town by a mysterious letter from his wife, Mary. Even though the game is 15 years old I won’t go too much into the story since it is something to experience oneself, but it remains one of the best stories in video games. It is a highly personal and tragic tale filled with grief and despair. The imagery is stark and disturbing and also full of symbolism that I will leave to the rest for you to uncover and interpret (or read one of many interpretations on the internet if you still don’t understand).There are also four possible endings on the first playthrough that can occur not through the push button receive endings of modern AAA RPGs, but rather through the way in which you play the game and certain specific actions. I implore you if to go in blind to the game in this regard.

It is also a brilliantly atmospheric game, with the gritty visual design previous described and Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack and overall sound design which makes for a creepy, unnerving experience, such as the dogs barking and the crunching of dirt and leaves under your feet as you take the long walk towards Silent Hill, giving you the feeling of no turning back (a technique the game uses often to great effect.) The familiar sounds of radio static return and the sounds of smacking and enemy with a 2×4 or shooting them with the pistol are loud and satisfying. The music is top notch as well, with moody ambience, loud drum work in certain sections and the theme that plays in the Heavens Night quoting the bass lines from Twin Peaks and extensive piano playing in the more sombre moments make for a soundtrack that is varied in style but forming a coherent whole.Voice acting is also quite good. It doesn’t sound like the familiar Tara Strong’s or Nolan North’s that we are used to today, nor does it sound campy and ridiculous like the original Resident Evil, which is here helped by strong dialogue and performances that are consistent and believable.

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In terms of how the game plays, it’s very much like the first game, which is perfectly fine because it’s a working formula and these days the classic survival horror pillars aren’t terribly common so unless you’ve played the series to death over the past decade or so, it will feel refreshing or at the very least not stagnant. Boss fights are still mostly the same, with them being in a rather small room and you having to shoot at it until it dies. But it still works because of the tank-ish controls, camera angles and cramped space that generally require you to pick and time your shots just right.  However, while the game still unnerved me consistently as I played with headphones on and in the dark for maximum immersion, ammo feels too plentiful on normal difficulty, although this might be because I tended to play quite conservatively and generally only used ammo for boss fights or when there were enemies in a cramped room. Healing items,managed properly are just enough. In terms of game length, this playthrough took me just over 7 hours total according to the game stats, which score you at the end. If you want to earn all the endings or just get the highest ranking, there is replay value or if you just want to enjoy the story again. Although unless you’re a completionist, the replay value won’t be immediate but might be one of those every x amount of years sort of deal.

Since this is the Directors Cut version, I need to address the sub scenario, Born From a Wish which you unlock after completing the main game. I have not played this, but it is there if you want a little extra Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill 2 is a game that in all areas holds up quite well (apart from a couple tiny issues from emulation but that’s not the game’s fault) and remains a classic that is a must play. If you’ve played it before, it’s definitely worth playing again at some stage and if you haven’t played it, get a hold of a copy (except the HD collection version) and play this masterpiece as soon as possible.

10/10

Furi (2016) PS4 review

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A neon soaked game in the trappings of the pink and purple hues of retrowave and fueled by those same sounds, Furi is a very aptly titled game. Part hack n slash, part twin stick shooter and part bullet hell, this game will kick your ass.

This game is very straightfoward; the structure of the game is a boss rush format, where you usually fight the varied enemies in a circular arena. In between, as a rest, you are treated to some beautiful sights in a futuristic retrowave looking world whilst being delivered expository dialogue by a guy in a mask that looks as if the rabbit from Donnie Darko had been dipped in pink paint. Not only do these serve as a rest but they also effectively pump you up for the next fight. Also there’s a story but it doesn’t really matter, but basically, you start out getting busted out of jail and you have to fight all the ‘guardians’ to escape the jail realm.

On a technical note, the graphics of the game are excellent and I love the aesthetic of the game. There is screen tearing from time to time, which isn’t too bad as the game runs smoothly in combat. Vsync is obviously not enabled but that is to the game’s benefit as the setting is often known to cause input delay problems which would really break the precision reflexes required here.

In the core game, you shoot using the right stick, dodge with X, parry with circle, hit square to attack and hold R2 for a charged shot. Each boss is different but the same basic principles apply and that is to be constantly mobile but also precise. Precise timing is absolutely vital, especially for parries, which restore a sliver of your health, as well as with dodging. Enemies have phases of increasing difficulty, in which the precision of parries and dodges increases along with it. The game is very difficult so in classic video game fashion, trial and error is common place in order to recognize all the attack patterns and simply be able to reflexively win. You also have 3 health bars that get replenished after getting to the next boss phase  Defeating a boss is more relief than achievement and herein lies the key problem with the game: the difficulty balance is too high. And before I get inundated with messages or comments telling me to “git gud”, I have passed the credits and am up to the post credits boss, which is the final boss after much yelling of “fuck you” and “cunt” at the TV on normal difficulty.

There’s a fine line to balance in games between difficult, challenging fun and frustrating. This game frequently dips into frustrating, particularly during the final phases of latter game bosses. This is why before I said the game was aptly titled, because the often unfair difficulty put me in a furious state. This level of difficulty might just be a bit of a laugh from the game’s French developer, The Game Bakers, and perhaps done out of vindictiveness, mockingly making us want to quit playing so they can say “whose the surrender monkey now?”

7/10

 

 

Bully (2006) PC Review

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All this week, the only game I’ve been playing is Rockstar’s Bully  or, if you’re in a PAL region,  Canis Canem Edit and it allowed me to do all the things in school I didn’t do, like vandalise windows, skip class, get tattoos, throw itching powder and firecrackers at people and be an all round delinquent with reckless abandon.

The game is pretty classic Rockstar in structure and style, with an open world that opens up as you progress through the main story. In fact, how I think the pitch for this game went was probably along the lines of “what if we did GTA but in high school?” The world, despite it being actually quite small, feels decently large due to the primary means of transportation such as on foot, skateboard or bicycle for most of the game. However, unlike GTA, the sandbox is much more limited and in that sense makes it more like the Mafia series where the open world is fully explorable but is still more of a backdrop for the narrative.

Novel features in the game include a rudimentary social feature that allows you to give gifts to female students in exchange for a kiss, compliment people, insult or when others are with low enough health, you can bully them by giving them a wedgie. You can steal kids books. There are also various subjects, such as music, art, maths, the usual stuff in high school that act as optional minigames that are a neat abstraction of class but you need to be careful about skipping class as prefects or police officers will bust you if they catch you and send your ass to class. The AI will also often fight each other as you’re going past, which is also pretty amusing. There are also side missions, such as a paper route to get some extra cash but the amount of money you get from main missions is more than enough that you’ll never really need to ever do them.

Combat itself is a very simple beat em up combo style that includes grabbing, punches and kicks and is nothing terribly special. Visually, the game is something of a transition piece between the simple graphics of the PS2 GTA games and the higher fidelity realism of Grand Theft Auto IV. It looks dated but not terribly bad, with animations generally being quite good and textures being alright. There’s barely any graphics options and those that are there are basically resolution, vsynch, anti aliasing and whether shadows are turned on or off. One annoyance is that the game is locked at 30fps and since I hadn’t played anything in 30fps in a while, my eyes had to adjust.

There is a fix you can get to allow 60fps. I tried this and while the image was obviously smoother, I ran into a few problems like animations playing too fast, controls being less precise, cutscenes cutting off suddenly just before they’re supposed to so I decided to go back to 30fps mode as it’s clear that the game was never designed for anything above 30, which is a shame. In terms of controls, they’re mostly fine, although the skateboard controls are bit basic, although perhaps I expect a bit much from skateboards in games as a once avid Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater player.

Audio is also mostly good, although very rarely but very noticeably, some of the voice dialogue sounds like they accidentally swapped the mics for the most kvlt lo fi black metal demo. Music in the game is very comfy and diverse, combining influences 80s pop rock, synth, as well as sounds from The Doors  and The Animals, as well as sounds that would feel at home in the American Pie films fit together remarkably to facilitate something of a timeless atmosphere. The voice of Gary, your sociopathic rival (what is it with Gary’s?) sounds a bit like Stifler and I checked the voice cast and he’s not voiced by Sean William Scott, but yeah, he sounds like a sociopathic Stifler more concerned with power and screwing people over rather than simply screwing people.

In terms of narrative, the setup is quite simple. You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a sarcastic delinquent who has been expelled from multiple schools who is sent to this academy and are introduced to the stereotypical cliques of preppies, jocks, nerds, greasers and so forth. Most of the characters aren’t very deep, which is fine considering the overall juvenile atmosphere of the game. But some are quite colourful, such as the alcoholic English teacher, the art teacher who makes Jimmy think she’s into him or the grotesque cook Edna. The story isn’t the best or deepest thing ever, but is amusing and gave me some good laughs. However, even with completing the story within 10 hours, at times it does feel like it drags a little, but not too much.

Overall, Bully, whilst being a smaller game, is quite fun and essential comfy core. The PC port isn’t great but is at least functional and you’ll probably have a good time vicariously doing the types of things you either did or didn’t do in high school, with novel mechanics on a familiar base. It’s a good time my dudes.

7.6/10

Microtransactions Are Fucking Retarded And So Are You

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Now, before I go into the broad thrust of the article and before the ACKCHUALLY  types turn up, there are some games that utilise microtransactions in a way that aren’t absolutely fucking irritating, such as Rainbow Six: Siege or Guitar Hero Live (whose TV mode works in a way that imitates streaming services like Spotify). These implementations of the microtransactions, which I consider exceptions within the microtransaction trend. I am not talking about those here, I am talking about the more sinister trends. But even though in these games they don’t irritate me too much, it would still be preferable for them to not be there, to put it briefly. Now on with the rest of the piece!

Imagine yourself playing Resident Evil. One of the old ones, with the fixed camera, tank controls and pre-rendered backgrounds. You’re fighting for your life, solving puzzles, managing resources, trying to kill a zombie or running away from it to conserve ammo, flight or fight responses fully engaged. You’ve been hit but don’t know if you should combine the herbs you have or use them or store some in the item box for later but are worried you might not have enough for the next few challenges. Now imagine this scenario, but now the game has microtransactions. Now you can just pay, with real money, to get more of these items. It would defeat the entire purpose of the game.

This is what microtransactions, in general, do. And there is a worrying trend of incorporating them into single player games.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the absolute shitstorm surrounding Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.  Everyone I’ve spoken to about the game or every review I have read has nothing but praise for the game itself. However, the game includes a storefront in the main menu which allows you to purchase in game cash or praxis kits (Jim Sterling has detailed videos about this here and here.) According to Sterling, the microtransactions were added in late in development at the behest of Square Enix, so lucky for the sake of Deus Ex players, the game was balanced without the micro transactions in mind, but still, the mere presence of them is repulsive and leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. This has not gone down well for players. A flood of negative reviews on Steam has the game averaging a 6/10, with roughly the same average user score on Metacritic, which has the game sitting at 6.1/10, with the inclusions of microtransactions, or poor performance, or both, often cited as reasons for the negative review with the game itself being praised.While being on the top sellers chart recently in the UK or currently, as of this writing, fourth top seller on Steam, according to Eurogamer, the sales of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which came out five years ago for those keeping score at home, were much better in it’s opening weeks than the most recently. I suspect the microtransaction controversy is a substantive contributor to this relative under performance. I can speak for myself when I say that this is one of the major reason I avoided purchasing the game around launch when I originally intended to purchase around launch.

Microtransactions have become ubiquitous as it has been a wildly successful in the mobile market. And of course the big publishers want to chase that all mighty dollar, even if it damages the reputation of the game or simply ruins the game itself as a piece of entertainment. And implementing such features I suspect is also very low cost with the potential for incredibly high profits. According to PsychGuides.com:

“But freemium games aren’t simply on par with their paid counterparts – these free apps have far surpassed them. In 2013 alone, in-app purchases’ share of the Apple App Store’s total revenue from the top 200 apps grew from 77% to 92%. It’s somewhat unexpected that free games would actually be more profitable than paid games, but when we look at patterns of how users make purchases within these games, the numbers start to add up.

A 2014 study of freemium mobile games found that 67% of in-app purchases were between $1 and $5, but these purchases only made up 27% of total revenue, while 9% of revenue was from purchases of $50 or more. Overall, 50% of mobile gaming revenue came from the top 10% of mobile gamers making purchases. These heavy spenders, termed “whales,” have been directly compared to the “big fish” courted by casinos. To generate vast profits, freemium games don’t have to hook everyone; instead, they only need to attract a small fraction of diehard fans.”

and
“The makers of the free game Candy Crush Saga made $1.88 billion in revenue in 2013, and the company has stated that only 4% of its users have made purchases through the game. These users, on average, have each paid over $150 while playing. Considered together, the revenue of the world’s 15 biggest mobile game developers grew to over $13 billion in 2013.”

So yeah these profits are huge. And this is all well and good for mobile games which cost nothing to start playing. Even games like Grand Theft Auto V include them in their online mode in the form of shark cards which give you a bunch of in game cash. Some of the shark cards cost more than the game itself. Big multiplayer releases such as Battlefield 1 or Call of Duty Black Ops 3 include these microtransactions. But these are full retail games that cost a full 60 dollars American on release, which also expect players to purchase a season pass as well, effectively doubling the cost of a single game for maximum extraction of profit. A nickel and dimeing,trying to squeeze every penny from players.

Now this is the point where people might say things like “but businesses are there to make money” in the most shrill and patronising fashion. This is less a well thought out position or argument and is instead a mere reflex. This sort of reflex towards any criticism of corporate misdoing,excess and greed. Perhaps good if you’re an investor whose sole concern is profit, but this type of “argument” being made from a consumer perspective is one who is thralled by these corporations either through fanboyism or neoliberal ideology. There’s multitudes of ways businesses can make money and as consumers, we shouldn’t endorse and justify egregious misuse of various practices and business models that blemish the games they’re incorporated into. Backlash works, like when the Xbox One was announced to not support used games and forced kinect on users. The backlash was so tremendous that these anti consumer features were removed and the removal of the kinect requirement made the system cheaper as a result. Other times, this hasn’t worked, especially with how spineless much of the gaming audience is, like when Modern Warfare 2 junked dedicated servers for the PC version and there was a tremendous uproar calling for a boycott but most of the people in the steam boycott group were playing a legitimately purchased version of the game.

CD Projekt Red, developers of The Witcher series are currently the poster boys for consumer friendly practices, offering free small post launch content for Witcher 3 players, not forcing DRM on PC users and paid content was substantial content that didn’t cost the same amount of money as the base game at launch. In the first half of 2015, the game had made a profit of US$62.5 million. In a nutshell, their business model was a traditional one and the profits were very good. It’s a shame that we have to celebrate their consumer friendly practices as unique, seeing as such an approach should be the norm rather than the exception.

Another argument that might come up is “but it’s optional!” There’s some cases where it’s truly optional, but most of the time it’s technically optional and by technically optional I mean that you might be able to beat the game without these things, but it might be one hell of a grind and psychologically abuse you into paying (see the south park video and psych guides link in this article) It’s clear that major publishers are testing the waters by applying the lucrative freemium model to games you already have to pay money for. It sets a dangerous precedent, especially if publishers believe audiences are ok with them. A fool and his money are easily parted and you don’t want to be a fool, do you?

A final argument I’ve heard justifying microtransactions, which I have heard in real life and not online, was in relation to single player games specifically. It went something like: ‘some people don’t have the time to sit through a game so these microtransactions are good for people who just want to experience the story.’ This view is so baffling that I have difficulty in trying to comprehend the thought processes that occur for one to hold such a position. Let’s think about it for a second. Some people pay full price for a video game and then spend even more money on the game outside of the initial purchase in order to experience less of the game. This might also reinforce the idea for publishers to force developers to balance the games around microtransactions, making this a self fulfilling prophecy through padding and artificial difficulty. But if you’re the type of person to who this actually applies to, then what are you doing purchasing normal video games? If you just want to more or less passively enjoy a story, just stick to Telltale’s offering or things like it. Better yet, just stick to movies and television if you don’t want to engage with the game part of video games.

I thought easy mode was for idiots and children who are unable to get good or for those who just wanted to blast through the game. Back when I was a kid, games also had these things called cheat codes if you wanted to get past a tricky spot in a game with no effort and you didn’t have to whip out yours or your mum’s credit card to do it. I’m going to chalk up the support of microtransactions in single player games, which you have to pay for in the first place, to mere stupidity. No rational consumer would ever assent to such nefarious practices.

This is all very frustrating, seeing video games be degenerated by bad business models. Doubly frustrating if the game itself seems otherwise of high quality. What I want you guys to take away from from this piece in summary is that microtransactions are stupid and that you should avoid being a shill for anti consumer practices.And if you can, resist from actually using microtransactions or purchasing titles whose microtransaction presence is known to you for full price.

Battlefield 1 Open Beta (PC) Impressions

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The open beta for the awkwardly titled Battlefield 1 came out yesterday, the series first foray into a First World War setting or indeed the first time this setting has been used in a AAA first person multiplayer shooter. After playing for a couple hours last night and a couple hours today, here’s what I think.

First off, in the beta, there is only one map, the Sinai Desert, which is quite large that has an urban zone, an outpost, a train station and of course, rocky outcrops and open desert. And the game looks beautiful. From the detail of the sand to the buildings, the production value is up to the standard of the series, and I’d say on par visually with last years Battlefront. And not only does it look great, it performs great too. I’m running it on high preset at 1440p resolution and getting 60+FPS on average. I had a look at the ultra preset as well and while it didn’t seem to degrade the average performance too drastically, but when drops did happen they were more severe than at high and the increase in visual fidelity wasn’t noticeable in moment to moment playing, so I’d advise just keeping it on high.

The amount of graphics settings are also the normal amount and clearly explained and there are a plethora of display options outside the regular graphics settings, such as resolution scale, colourblind options, the ability to turn the HUD off, crosshair settings and a FOV slider that goes up to about 110 for both on foot and vehicle, minimap scale and opacity. Battlelog is also gone and the server browser is back in game, so you’re not stuck with matchmaking, which is always a plus. So on these basic levels, this PC version is so far very good and bodes well for the final release.

As far as the game itself, for better or worse, it’s Battlefield. It has Rush and Conquest modes and the same game flow. If you’ve played any of the Battlefield games since at least 3, playing this will be like slipping on a comfortable pair of gloves. There are a couple changes to the formula however. There are horses that allow for quickly getting into the heat of battle, sniper rifles can zero in their range in 3 increments, gas grenades and gas masks that prevent you from using ADS but fully protecting from gas attacks,etc. There is also a bayonet charge. But at it’s core, it’s still the same modern Battlefield series that you either love or don’t. Oh, there is also dynamic weather and map events, in the case of the beta, a dust storm can kick up where you can’t see shit. It’s great.

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The game also doesn’t quite do too great in terms of historical accuracy, which is a sacrifice for the game flow as most of the weapons here are automatic or semi automatic stuff and prototypes that weren’t around until the end of the war, or were at least not widely circulated. It’s probably best to just think of it as “what if the war went on for another year or two” if this is the kind of thing that bothers you. Tanks also seem far too fast here, as fast as they are in other Battlefield games. Since there don’t seem to be grenade or rocket launchers or any sort of anti tank rifle, I think the speed of tanks need to be slowed down a little bit.

One thing that really pissed me off is the netcode. Most of the time it’s fine, but I often got random lag spikes which were quite radical and almost always screwed me over. It would go from 50 ping to 500. Sometimes with this it would wrest control of my character and freeze him for a moment and then I would get control. Once the game also locked my computer up for about 2 minutes. And even when my ping was fine, I faced plenty of rubberbanding issues. I noticed these problems became more frequent the longer I kept playing a single session and performance would also become less stable too so I think there might be some kind of memory leak. There’s also a couple other bugs like class kits not levelling up properly and vaulting over certain objects not seeming to work properly. Point is, even though the performance is great there’s still some serious bugs to be over come. Oh, and as far as the amount of kangz goes, they seem to be your default character in the beta, but the full release seems to have some type of character customisation, so there this issue will be less grating.

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Now, this open beta, which is really more like a demo is supposed to make us want to buy the game. So, based on this beta, will I be able to recommend the full game to you? This is very difficult because the actual game is good, but being published by EA and EA being EA, the pricing structure for this game on release can only be described as extortion when you take into account the premium pass, which is basically a necessity for major releases like this and Call of Duty to get the full experience.and to ensure longevity and not being kicked out of lobbies all the damn time. Full pricing structure is pictured below, but the ultimate edition, which is the game plus season pass, costs A$170 if you buy directly from EA’s digital distribution service, Origin. For a double whammy, microtransactions are also going to be present. As a game, the game is really fun. But it’s surrounded by a shitty business model and so based on the current prices, I’d advise to wait until you can get the base game for quite cheap or wait until the inevitable complete edition retail release and see if the game is still active.
way too expensive