I like games... and tattoos. Yes, those.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review - Darksiders II




The only two things one can be certain about in life, is death and taxes. Or something like that. The point however, is that we are talking about Death. 

The person. 

Character. 

Anthropomorphic personification.




Yeah, that guy.

Death is one of the four horseman of the Apocalypse, and if you played the first Darksiders game, you'll know that it focused on Death's brother, War.

Darksiders II's story runs parallel to much of what goes on in Darksiders I. As a quick recap, War was framed for bringing about the End War, or the Apocalypse prematurely. He was captured, convicted for his crimes by the Charred Council and now awaits their judgement.

In Darksiders 2, Death sets out on a mission to prove his brother's innocence, and travels to the nether realms to call in some favours from some powerful beings. Which considering the fact that he's the only thing certain in life apart from the tax man is pretty weird when you think about it... I mean surely he's the most powerful of all beings? 

Anyway, I digress. Moving on.

The gameplay isn't much different from the previous game, although Death has some fancier moves more akin to Prince of Persia than anything else, including things like wall running, and I'll be honest, much as it's fun and I enjoyed the PoP games, I feel the same way about this as I did about Enslaved, which I also felt ripped a lot of it's gameplay from PoP. It's not to say that it's not well executed, in fact both Enslaved and Darksiders II have implemented this particularly well, but it lacks originality.




Anyway, Death wields dual scythes, which I'll be honest, looks pretty damn slick, and his combat is smooth and quick, with the standard moves complimented beautifully with some cool power attacks. You can also purchase additional moves as you progress through the game, meaning by the time you reach the end, you have a pretty amazing arsenal of tricks up your sleeves. Robes. Whatever.

There are some RPG elements added to this action adventure, with a lot more focus on picking up loot than in the previous game. Death can level up as well at certain points, so it seems that the RPG element carries through in more ways than one. This is definitely a good addition as it provides some motivation to go around searching for chests and the like. 

The level design and the puzzles aren't particularly engaging however, and in this vast and rather empty landscape it often feels as if you're simply traversing from place to place, fighting enemies as you go, without much else to do. To break the tedium you can travel on Death's awesome horse Despair, but even that loses it's lustre after a while.

The combat however is where Darksiders 2 really shines even if the story isn't quite as good as War's. The boss battles are mostly fun and exciting, with Death's special reaper finishing moves really providing a spectacular climax to an amazing battle. There are also a few battles where you really have to think strategically to win, and this makes a nice change to some of the more straightforward fights.

The gameplay mechanics are definitely improved from the first game, although it can become somewhat monotonous, making the game drag at times.

The visual style is beautiful, and much more refined than Darksiders I, but to be honest this isn't really enough to pull it from a good game to a great game.

Darksiders 2 is worth the play, particularly if you were a fan of the first one. Don't expect anything really amazing however, you're really just playing this one to see how the story ends...



Monday, August 27, 2012

Review - Sleeping Dogs




Sleeping Dogs, published by Square Enix, is a game that flew under the radar for many people, and although we'd seen one or two mentions, game critics had practically forgotten about it until a month or so before it's release.

The first impression you get of this game is that it's Grand Theft Auto set in Hong Kong - and not in the awful way the Yakuza games tried to do the same kind of thing, except in Japan obviously. Nope, this actually looks cool.

For those of you familiar with the True Crime series, you'll be pleased to know that this is True Crime 3. Literally. It was initially announced by Activision as True Crime: Hong Kong, then cancelled because of budget overruns, and ultimately picked up by Square Enix and renamed Sleeping Dogs because, well they bought the game but they didn't buy the naming rights.

Now, partly because I'm a Grand Theft Auto fiend and partly because there are so many similarities to the iconic sandbox series, my immediate instinct is to compare the two, which I don't think is entirely fair. Nevertheless it seems likely that most people will do the same, so we might as well go with it.

Lets start with the somewhat unoriginal storyline. You're an undercover cop, Wei Shen, sent into deep cover with a Triad gang. Wei has been told to infiltrate the gang and take them down. The story is set in a fictional Hong Kong, and deals firstly with Wei's personal struggles between his duties as a police officer, compared to the tasks he's forced to perform to prove himself to the Triads.




In typical fashion for a crime slash moral choice game like this, he has to complete missions set for him by a Triad boss, as well as a host of other contacts he makes along the way. Everybody wants something! Typical...

The story isn't particularly inspiring, but it's not bad overall – certainly no worse than many other games I've played. The missions are not great, and lack innovation but is this really something we see a lot of in many games of this genre?

Now on to the gameplay. Each mission is scored according to your criminal performance, your police officer performance and your all round kickassness. Yes, I made that word up. Again, nothing original in the implementation of the whole moral code aspect of things, especially since it doesn't really have much impact on the storyline, but certainly enjoyable enough to keep you playing.

The animation is slightly stiffer than the kind Rockstar churns out, and whilst this isn't a major gripe it is something that drops the bar just that little bit. Another seemingly small but ultimately irritating thing is the music. Its not annoying in and of itself, but rather every time you get into a car or onto a bike, it appears to start the same track over again. Maybe it's just me, but I swear if i have to hear the same few opening bars one more time...!



Visually the game is in many ways an homage to iconic martial arts movies, where everyone knows how to kick ass, and only ever attacks one at a time, yelling insanely all the while. It's enjoyable and the fighting style quite clearly owes a great deal to the Batman games, as you attack, counter attack and dodge in much the same manner. Hand to hand combat is more prevalent than gun play, so don't expect to spend huge amounts of time aiming down a scope.

Again, much like it's GTA influence, you can date girls, sing karaoke, and complete a host of side missions to while away the time as you take a break from crime. The story sadly is relatively short, only about 14 or 15 hours in total, which means you can play through in a day or two if you don't have anything else to do with your time.

Back now to our comparison with GTA. I'll use GTA 4 as an example because it's the most recent of the franchise. I've heard many people argue that Sleeping Dogs is visually superior to GTA, and I wouldn't dispute this. GTA 4 is game published in 2008 however, so I would actually hope that the graphics were vastly improved in that respect.




The missions are clearly inspired by not only GTA, but the car chases from arcade racers like Need for Speed for example, but the difference is that Sleeping Dogs does appear to have stitched the aspects of different games together rather well. Yes perhaps the game does remind you of too many different things, but overall you come away with a rather good feeling about it.

If you're a fan of open world sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, you'll feel a sense of irritation in the first couple of hours of playing Sleeping Dogs. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, you'll realise that you're loving it.

No, it's not the best sandbox game to be released, but it's a fun, engaging and well put together tribute to martial arts and the art of Hong Kong cinema that is not left wanting. Go out and buy it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gamescom 2012

Gamescom is one of the gaming trade shows that everyone knows about and most journalists attend, but which often receives very little in terms of hype.

When E3 rolled around this year my news feed was flooded with "live feed" updates from other games journalists. E3 was all that was on everyone's lips.

Come Gamescom however, I've mostly had to go and look for stuff, which is somewhat weird considering this is the E3 of Europe.

Anyway, in case some of you don't follow me on Twitter, I've provided links to all the trailers from various publishers below. Some look awesome... some meh...

I'll post more as they appear, but here's the eye candy from the first few days :)

Try not to wet your pants ok?


Silent Hunter Online



Routine



007 Legends



Hitman: Absolution Contracts Mode



Tokyo Jungle



Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time



Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Multiplayer



Resident Evil 6



Rain



Tearaway



Killzone Mercenary



Star Trek



Lost Planet 3



Puppeteer



Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale



Until Dawn



God of War: Ascension Multiplayer



The Last of Us



Assassins Creed 3: Liberation



Dead Space 3



Remember Me Announcement and Gameplay trailers




Need For Speed Most Wanted



Crysis 3 Hunter Mode



Battlefield 3 Premium



Devil May Cry



Army of Two Devils Cartel



Assassins Creed 3








Sunday, August 5, 2012

Shhhh! Be vewy vewy quiet! If you listen carefully...



I have been exceedingly quiet of late I know. With a number of different projects on the cards and in the works, there simply hasn't been time to post here and get all the bits and pieces done.

Exciting things are coming up in the next couple of months however! And I'm not just talking on the personal front!

If you listen carefully you can hear the gaming world take an enormous breath before it explodes in a cacophony of activity for the next few months.

Gamescom 2012 is almost upon us, running from the 15th - 19th August this year in Cologne, Germany and there is no doubt that all the usual big names will be there. With any luck there will also be some big announcements and of course if you follow any devs on Twitter, your feed will be flooded within seconds.

On the local front, something that I'm both looking forward to and have the good fortune to be involved in is A MAZE Interact Johannesburg. The A MAZE Festival runs from the 28th August until the 2nd September in Joburg and combines Art, Music, Play and all round Gaming goodness.

And lastly of course, we are in the final run up to rAge, South Africa's gaming expo, held right here in Joburg every year. Only 60 days to go, rAge is held on the first weekend of October at the Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate, which this year falls between the 5th-7th.

We might have been through a quiet patch these last couple of months, but that's all just in preparation for the hype that is about to hit the gaming world.

Be Prepared!