Steam’s recommendation engine, despite the unholy treasure trove of data they have on what everyone plays, is total arse. Even the new discover queue is a hit and miss affair; weighted extremely heavily towards the last handful of games you’ve played. I’d know too as I got recommended dozens of visuals novels after playing Dream Daddy and not a single other visual novel game (I don’t count Pyre in that genre, for what it’s worth). Suffice to say I don’t have a lot of trust in it and there’s not many games from there that I end up buying. Katana ZERO is an exception to this rule however as it popped up as a recommended game for me and was bought shortly after. The videos were just enough to grab my interest but its solid mechanics, great artwork and perfect game length is what makes it one of 2019’s more interesting titles to date.
You are a samurai assassin, blessed with the gift of precognition. This allows you to look into the future and plan out your moves, ensuring that no target is outside your reach. However you know nothing of your past, save for the fact that you were involved in a great war some time ago and you’re haunted by nightmares from your childhood. Your therapist is helping you though and thankfully the dose of the drugs he gives you is going down. So you keep doing his bidding, taking out targets that he gives to you after each session. Still though something feels off, time seems to flow strangely every so often, the past, present and future mixing together until they all coalesce back together. Although that can’t be right, time always flows forward right?
Katana ZERO has some of the best pixel art I’ve seen in recent times, seamlessly mixing in modern elements that give it a really nice visual flair. This is made all the more impressive that it’s created in GameMaker, something which has a reputation much like Unity for having a certain kind of aesthetic for all titles built with it. The frame rate was also consistently high, something that I’ve definitely not seen done a lot with other GameMaker based titles. On top of this Katana Zero has a great original sound track, one that’s available in ogg format in the game’s base directory should you happen to want it. Overall I’m very impressed with Katana ZERO’s level of craftsmanship.
Mechanically Katana ZERO is a kind of beat em up puzzler as every level is about planning out your moves, figuring out what triggers what and how to overcome seemingly impossible scenarios. You have a couple key mechanics at your disposal: roll which makes you invulnerable, the ability to slow down time significantly for a short period and your usual array of 2D melee combat mechanics. You’ve got one life and a single hit will take you down so you’ll have to plan your attack route carefully. There’s no upgrades, items or inventory to manage; all you have to do is make it to the end of the level by laying waste to everything in your wake. Of course that’s much easier said than done but Katana ZERO provides ample challenge without being unnecessarily difficult. A fine line to walk in this age of Dark Souls clones who are trying to out compete each other in brutality.
The combat is incredibly satisfying when you’re able to clear a stage in a single section, giving you that lovely feeling of being the badass ninja assassin. Of course there’s certain levels which have the “fuck you player” mechanics in them, I.E. things right at the end of levels that’ll kill you instantly and the only way to know about them is to play the level. The boss fights could also prove challenging for some as they all have very particular mechanics that aren’t particularly straightforward. Still Katana ZERO’s combat feels a lot more forgiving than other, similar titles that I’ve played in the past and I think that’s one of the reasons that it didn’t feel like a complete chore to play through to the end.
I only have minor gripes about Katana ZERO which says a lot about it’s quality. Every so often the game would lose its capture of the mouse which meant that it’d shoot out the side of game window and onto my browser running on the second monitor. Clicking would then minimize the game and, most often, lead to a death. The game can also be quite visually confusing when a lot is happening on screen, something which can make it rather hard to understand exactly why you died at one particular time. For me it always seemed to be the shotgunners because, despite being able to reflect the projectiles, it appears you can only reflect one of them. Given there’s like 20 of them coming at you it’s pretty much guaranteed death, even if you hear the ting of the reflected shot. Other than that Katana ZERO was pretty much solid.
The story of Katana ZERO is really what brings it all together though as it’s well thought out and given ample time to develop over the course of your playthrough. Initially it just seems like another typical super soldier story but it quickly starts morphing as you uncover other elements that I can’t discuss without spoiling it. I’m not quite sure how much control you have over the various elements but there was definitely enough freedom of choice to make me feel like I had some control, which is probably all you really need in the end.
Katana ZERO will go down as one of my big surprises for 2019, coming out of nowhere and providing an experience that is just well done all round. The art, music and mechanics are all on point, providing ample amounts of challenge without making it difficult for difficulty’s sake. The story is engaging, well written and appears to give you just enough influence to make you feel like you’re in control of what’s happening on screen. I could go on but realistically if your interest is piqued I don’t think you could go wrong by giving Katana ZERO 4 hours of your time.
Katana ZERO is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $21.50. Game was played on the PC with a total of 4.6 hours playtime and 16% of the achievements unlocked.
Even though I’ve been reviewing games for fun for the better part of 6 years now there are few series that I’ve been able to catalogue my experiences of completely. Many of the big AAA games have been going on since long before I started blogging and there are many new IPs since then that have failed to see further instalments. However one of the stand out series I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing has been the Batman: Arkham games which have set the standard to which many others are compared. The last title in this series, Arkham Knight, sees a return of Rocksteady Studios as the developer and with them the hopes that this game will bring a return to form for the IP. Indeed, at least for this review, that’s very much the case however you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the turmoil that this title endure during its first weeks on the shelves.
Although his nemesis might be gone Batman has continued his work in Gotham City, becoming an ally of the GCPD rather than its adversary. In the year since the events of Arkham City Gotham has become a place of peace with crime rates tumbling and the populace feeling safe in their home town. However Batman’s continued spoiling of everyone’s nefarious plans has not gone unnoticed and they have all banded together with the one singular goal: to kill the batman. At the helm is Scarecrow who threatens the entire city and causes a mass evacuation, leaving the streets to be filled with criminals, looters and a sense of fear. It is up to you now, dear Batman, to rid Gotham of this disease once again but the journey may leave you losing much more than you’d ever had hoped to.
Arkham Knight is an absolutely stunning game with the graphics easily surpassing any of the previous titles in the series. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s running on the Unreal 3 engine which, as of writing, was released almost 11 years ago. The trademark Gothic style is back once again with everything in Gotham having this certain retro-futuristic chic about it. Climbing to the top of any building is rewarded with a gorgeous landscape that’s just brimming with detail which only gets better upon closer inspection. There are some pretty great innovations in here too, like how rain falls on surfaces and slicks down or how the turbulent waters of Gotham’s harbours churn and crash against the walls. Going back and looking at my previous screenshots from other Batman titles Arkham Knight really is a generation ahead of its predecessors, an incredible feat considering the last title was released less than 2 years ago.
For those who’ve played any of the previous Arkham titles the core game play will be familiar, taking much the same approach as Arkham City did. You’re plopped down into a vast open world with numerous objectives, all of which are centred on one of the characters from the Batman franchise. You’re free to pick and choose from any of the objectives all of which will grant you upgrade points which you can spend to upgrade Batman’s skills, gadgets and combat moves. You will also be treated to the wonder that is the Batmobile, a nimble tank that’s got a staggering array of weaponry at its disposal, which you’ll need to make good use of if you’re to get anywhere in this game. The traditional beat ’em up combat remains intact with only a few new options added into the mix to differentiate it from its predecessors. In terms of scale it’s the biggest Batman game ever released, one that will keep even the most dedicated achievement hunter busy for a very long time.
The melee combat remains largely the same as it did in previous Arkham games with the addition of a few new gadgets and enemy types. If I’m honest it actually feels slightly weaker than previous titles as the new gadgets fail to make up for the lack of new combos or takedowns. Pulling off massive combos doesn’t seem to have the same spectacular pay off that it used which was a big driver, at least for me, to get better at landing them. There’s the inclusion of the fear takedown, which basically works as an opener to take out the most dangerous enemies first, which is cool but does take away a fair chunk of the skill required to take down massive groups of varied enemies. This, coupled with the lack of any big melee boss fights, means that whilst the essence of the combat is still there it just doesn’t have the same attraction it once did.
This is made up for entirely by the inclusion of the Batmobile, the single most fun thing that Rocksteady included in Arkham Knight. From the second you first get your hands on it the Batmobile is a cacophony of destruction, metallic car noises and oodles of weaponry that border on being ludicrously excessive. Driving around Gotham is just plain fun as you smash and crash your way through pretty much everything that gets in your way. The vehicle combat makes up for the less than stellar melee combat although after the 30th drone battle over a mine it does start to lose its lustre somewhat. However the integration of the Batmobile into almost every aspect of the game is done so well you start to wonder how they managed to build a Batman game without it. I’m not sure how canon this form of the Batmobile is however as it’s pretty much a killing machine on wheels, something which isn’t strictly in alignment with the Batman ethos. Not that that really matters, though.
The stealth sections are back again this time with even more ways for the enemies to locate you and ruin your Not Seen and Not Shot bonuses. The mechanics will be instantly familiar, finding vantage points and sneaking through grates, however for each new hazard you’re given a new way to deal with it. Much like the melee combat though it feels a little weaker than previous games, possibly because it is so similar or maybe because other elements (like the Batmobile) are just that much better. Suffice to say most of my stealth sections usually ended in me unceremoniously taking out everyone after they spotted me once and more than a few angered restarts because of that.
Due to the outrage over how unplayable Arkham Knight was I decided to hold off until the first patch was released and I’m glad I did. I experienced no performance issues at all with Arkham Knight being buttery smooth the entire time. It was not, however, a completely glitch free experience as there were numerous times where things didn’t work as expected. Chasing Firefly in the Batmobile would often result in it not being able to drive forward for some reason, requiring me to jump out and back in again (sometimes allowing him to escape). On more than one occasion the indicators that I should counter something during a cutscene simply didn’t pop up, leading to a few frustrating moments where I simply could not figure out how to get to the next section. However none of these issues are what I’d consider game breaking as I would not have invested so much time into Arkham Knight if it was as broken as everyone was making it out to be. As of writing Arkham Knight is still not for sale on Steam, something which I honestly don’t agree with after playing through it this past week.
The story serves as the conclusion to the Arkham series and, I’m glad to say, rounds out the various stories of all the main characters quite well. For those of us who’ve stuck with the Arkham series since Asylum it’s been quite a ride and to have it end so well, when so many games have done endings like this poorly, is a most welcome change. This does not mean that the Batman IP has run its course yet, indeed the upcoming Batgirl DLC is a testament to this, however the story ark of Batman and Joker is done and dusted. I’ll be interested to see if Rocksteady or another development studio will look to replicate the success of this series with other characters within the same franchise as, whilst I’m glad this chapter has come to a close, I’d very much like to explore more of this world from a different perspective.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting finale to this venerable series, capturing everything that made the series great whilst amping it up to the next level with a solid story and, of course, the Batmobile. The combat and stealth retain the essence of what made the previous games great although fail to innovate much beyond that. The Batmobile makes up for this in spades, delivering gloriously dumb action as you tear through the streets of Gotham. The story finishes the major Batman and Joker arc beautifully, leaving you with a sense of closure whilst also wanting to see more of this world that Rocksteady has built up over the past 5 years. Even if you haven’t been following the series since day dot you won’t be disappointed in the experience that Batman: Arkham Knight brings as it is truly a stellar game, even in its own right.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 16 hours playtime and 42% of the achievements unlocked.
Ever since we (sort of) won the battle for a R18+ rating for games us adult gamers have been hoping that the games, which are clearly not for children, would make their way to us under that banner. However we’ve quickly run up against the classification definition several times already with many titles receiving the dreaded NC rating, preventing them from being sold within our borders. Whilst there’s healthy debate to be had on a case by case basis any gamer will tell you that they were expecting the NC rating to never be seen again and all titles would be available to us. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the latest victim to get the dreaded NC rating although I was able to snag a copy anyway, even though the developer had told us Australians to just pirate it.
Hotline Miami 2 follows several different story lines, each of which crisscrosses through one another at various points. You start off as a member of the masked vigilante group who spend their nights finding scumbags and other lowlifes to make examples of. Then you’ll be whirled back to Vietnam, thrown in deep behind enemy lines and left to die, unless you can gun your way out of there. You’ll even spend time as the son of a gang lord, looking to re-establish his father’s reputation and drive those filthy Colombians out of your territory. Holding this all together is an unnamed author trying to piece it all together, searching for the single thread that connects all these events. There is only one thing they share however: the brutality of the violence committed.
This much anticipated sequel retains the original’s Grand Theft Auto style although with a lot more fidelity than its predecessors had. Hotline Miami felt like it was made alongside the game it imitated however Hotline Miami 2 feels more like the modern pixelart titles we’ve come to love, embracing the styling but putting a layer of modern polish on it. This can be most readily seen in the intermission sections, where there’s obviously been a lot more care taken to developing the rolling backgrounds and effects that are layered on top. This also comes hand in hand with an amazing soundtrack, which includes many of my favourite synthwave/retro pop bands like Mitch Murder, that goes along perfectly with the bloody action on screen.
In terms of core game play not much has changed in the sequel retaining the top down, beat ’em up style that made the original so intriguing. Gone is the linear progression system where you’d unlock new masks that you can use with any mission, instead now you unlock masks for certain “fans” and weapons for others. The variety now comes from the different characters you’ll be playing which either have a choice of 3 different things or simply have some abilities natively. Whilst I’m sure this was done to encourage players to branch out a little bit (I have to admit to stick to “lethal doors” for pretty much all of the original game) it does feel a whole bunch more restrictive, especially when some of the characters are a lot more fun to play than others.
The combat is a mix of brutal, twitch based game play that requires you to think and act fast and more methodical, pragmatic approaches that require you to sit back and learn the level before charging in head first. The driving music and incredibly satisfying noises you get when hoeing through a whole level of enemies pushes you towards the reckless end of the spectrum constantly which makes the more slow and methodical sections feel a little out of place. Indeed those levels are by far the most difficult as it typically takes several perfectly placed manurers in order to get to the next section. Then, if you weren’t paying attention, you can make that next section incredibly difficult for yourself, as I managed to do several times over.
Still there’s very much a sense of most (I’ll come back to this in a second) of your mistakes being your fault rather than the game punishing you so there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in figuring out how to best approach something. Over the course of the game you’ll start to figure out how long certain enemies wait before shooting, how far away they’ll hear gunshots and why your bullets don’t seem to hit someone when you first open the door (hint: you’re shooting the door). Unfortunately however there are numerous aspects of the game that simply can’t be overcome by skill and this can lead to some rather frustrating experiences.
To start off with most enemies can shoot you before you can see them, even if you’re using the “look” thing. This goes both ways, allowing you to shoot some enemies before you can see them, however it means that sometimes when you’re walking down a hallway you haven’t been to yet you’ll die to stray gunshots you won’t know were coming. There’s also numerous enemies which either don’t react consistently or are essentially coin tosses as to whether you die to them or not which can make an otherwise perfect run fall completely on its face. Indeed whilst I’m happy to admit that a lot of my failures were due to me simply doing retarded things there were more than a handful where I’d get most of the way through a level before getting rail roaded by something I felt I had no control over.
However the biggest flaw in Hotline Miami’s second coming is by far the level lengths which have increased dramatically in most cases. For most games this would be a good thing, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the game world and soak in all the detail. With a game like Hotline Miami 2 however it just becomes exhausting as you have to slog through stage after stage in order to get to the end. Indeed this style of game which seems to hinge on being frantic, by-the-second style action suffers tremendously when its drawn out over a 30+ minute period, something which will routinely happen to anyone who’s not godlike with twitch based games like this.
The story remains one of Hotline Miami’s strong points and, whilst I enjoyed it, it’s hard for me to say whether or not I fully understood it on my single play through. In fact the most easily understood sections, for me at least, were the psychedelic episodes that a few of the characters endured whilst the broader plot points seemed to have eluded me. There’s ties back to the original (or at least I think there are as some of the faces look awfully familiar) which I would say much the same about. I guess where I’m going with this is Hotline Miami 2 has a story that requires multiple sittings to fully understand but is more than passable on a single play through.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number brings back the brutal top down beat ’em up that became an instant classic 2 years ago and does so with renewed vigour. The art and sound has been ramped up significantly with the pixelart looking oh-so-good and the list of artists on the soundtrack swelling significantly. The combat has remained largely the same with a few tweaks here and there to encourage players to branch out of their comfort zones. However it’s marred by some mechanics that feel unduly fair and significantly increased level length that, rather than feel engrossing, just end up being exhausting slogs. Overall Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is still great at what it does and if you were a fan of the original you’ll be right at home with its sequel.
Hotline Miami 2 is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Vita right now for $14.99 on all platforms. Total play time was 7 hours with 31% of the achievements unlocked.
We seem to be going through a revolutionary period in gaming where IP from other mediums is suddenly finding its feet, becoming on par with (and even surpassing) experiences that were born within the gaming genre. Many will agree that this started 5 years ago when Rocksteady Studios released their seminal title: Batman Arkham Asylum. Since then many other titles have followed in its wake, staying true to the original IP whilst creating an experience that you simply could not get in any other medium. The latest addition to this style of games is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, set between J.R.R Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which takes the source material and turns it into an experience that is among the best I’ve played this year.
You are Tailon, ranger captain stationed at the Black Gate in Mordor, sworn to keep watch over Mt Doom and all the horrors that dwell within it. The dark lord that dwelled within those lands had not been idle however, growing his vast army of grotesque orcs and uruk quietly, leaving the world of man to think they were safe once more. One fateful day he unleashed them upon the Black Gate, killing everyone within it. But your life wasn’t to be taken, instead you were bound to an unknown wraith spirit in a horrific blood sacrifice, unable to die and bound to the mortal plane. Now, with your new found wraith powers, you look for vengeance and the means with which to end this existence so you can be with your family once again.
Shadow of Mordor is quite the pretty game with scenes ranging from sprawling vistas to cramped caves and busy garrisons. The graphics still have that last-gen feel to them, mostly attributable to the choice of colour palette, however they’re certainly not bad on the eye. It’s also probably due to the choice of engine as well as Shadow of Mordor uses the LithTech Engine which hasn’t seen a game on it in the past 2 years. Still it manages a good level of graphical fidelity given its open world nature which manages to run smoothly even on my now aging rig. I’ll admit that I might be giving it a bit of an easy pass in this regard since I’m coming fresh off the horror that was Dead Rising 3 as by comparison Shadow of Mordor is liquid smooth.
In terms of game play Shadow of Mordor feels like it’s a cross between several different titles, taking aspects from each whilst integrating a new mechanic that binds and elevates the whole experience. At its core Shadow of Mordor is an open world game,. giving you dozens of missions to do any of which will help progress your character, the story or will help you get all those collectibles which so many people seem to lust after. The combat takes after the Arkham series of games in the classic beat ’em up fashion. Then there’s the RPG elements in the character levels and talents alongside the gear upgrade path which takes the form of runes and a kind of currency that you’ll need to spend to unlock more slots. However the best part of the game is the Nemesis system, whereby members of enemy faction grow stronger, fight with each other for power and provide you with challenges to avenge your friends who’ve been cut down by them. Shadow of Mordor really does pack a lot of game into it’s (non-Australian taxed) asking price and I’m sure there’s double the amount of game play in it for dedicated fans.
Whilst the game wasn’t developed by either Rocksteady or Warner Brothers Studios the combat feels like they lifted the entire system right out of one of their Arkham series titles. As anyone who’s played those games can attest combat systems such as those are incredibly enjoyable to play, offering the right balance of challenge and reward, at least at the start anyway. You’ll start out struggling to deal with large crowds of orcs but you’ll soon morph yourself into an unstoppable killing machine, nigh on impervious to any attack the game might throw at you. It can get a little repetitive though as the ultimate abilities are simply unlimited versions of regular abilities but most of the time you’ll still feel like the ultimate badass when you come out on top of the two dozen orcs you happened across.
The upgrade system is well thought out in most respects, giving you the feeling of progression often enough that you won’t find yourself feeling like you’ve gone hours without the game rewarding you. There’s 2 stages of progression for your character namely your ability points and power level. The ability points are gained in the regular way, getting XP via missions and killing things, however power is only gained when you resolve power struggles, kill captains/warchiefs or do any of the other assorted red missions. It really doesn’t take long to unlock all tiers of abilities, enough so that I had access to the final tier about halfway through the game. If you’d prefer to keep the challenge up then all you need do is avoid the red missions however if you want to become ridiculously overpowered you’re no more than an hour or two away from doing so.
The loot and gear upgrades feels a little less polished as you’ll get runes from defeating captains but what you get is a little random. You can ensure a drop of a certain type by exploiting weaknesses and fears but unless you’ve deliberately died to a captain several times over you’re not likely to get a good drop from them. You can break down the runes into the currency to fuel the other upgrades however I feel like it would’ve been better to have a rudimentary crafting system in there to upgrade them. I usually had several runes of a type that I really liked but they weren’t powerful enough to use on their own. If I could combine say, three into one, to get an upgrade I feel like that would’ve been a lot better than praying to RNGesus every time I killed a captain or warchief.
I couldn’t publish this review without mention just how awesome the nemesis system is as it provides this kind of player driven narrative on top of the core story of Shadow of Mordor that’s just incredible. Essentially the uruks fight each other in order to gain power and you fight them to gain power as well. Should you die to one they’ll grow in power and, potentially, move up the ranks and get followers. If you’re so inclined you can even influence them to move up ranks, get them to usurp their own captains or turn on each other. Couple that with the wide variety of responses that the uruks have upon seeing you (knowing you’re using someone to betray them, how many times they’ve killed you and so on) and even facing the same enemy again doesn’t lose its lustre. It’s an incredibly deep system and one that’s sure to provide enjoyment to both story players like myself and those that just revel in open world games.
Whilst the story probably isn’t the strongest part of Shadow of Mordor it is most definitely above the average dreck that I’ve been making my way through this year. The main premise probably needed a bit more development in order to make that initial emotional moment a bit more impactful, and thus make me empathise with the main character a little more, but it didn’t take me long to get into it. Since this is drawing on the wider Tolkien IP it does manage to get away with not explaining a lot of things that would otherwise need some rigorous explaining which does aid the story quite a bit. I’ll also have to admit that the ending was so-so, missing that final climclimactictle that I was so looking forward to with my incredibly overpowered character at the ready. So overall I think it’s ok, although on the proviso that you’re already familiar with The Lord of The Rings IP.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game where the sum of its parts is much greater than its whole. The combat is fast paced and satisfying, the progression well paced and the overall look and feel just feels a level above other similar games of recent memory. The nemesis system is really what pulls the whole game together, adding another layer on top of the game that really ramps up how engaged you’ll be with Shadow of Mordor. It’s not a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagine, with the middling story being the biggest mark against it, but the whole package helps to patch over the various minor faults. In all honesty I think most gamers will find something to like in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor as its wide variety of mechanics and styles ensures that it caters to an incredibly wide audience.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $39.95, $99.95, $89.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with 13 hours of total playtime with 61% of the achievements unlocked.
The original Dead Rising was one of those games that every owner of a Xbox360 had on their shelves. It was just the right combination of not taking itself seriously and solid zombie killing action, long before the dearth of zombie based titles we have today. There was enough variety that pretty much any player could find something to like in it although the constantly ticking down clock ensured that you’d never get everything you wanted done in a single play through. The latest instalment, Dead Rising 3, continues along the series’ tried and true lines, although the experienced is marred by both performance and design level issues.
It’s been 10 years since the last outbreak when suddenly Los Perdidos finds itself in the grip of another zombie apocalypse. You are Nick Ramos, a young mechanic in this city who’s trying to find a way to get himself and his crew out of there. After a routine search for supplies you find out that the army is going to fire bomb Los Perdidos in order to contain the outbreak, giving you just 6 days to get yourself out of there. However as you ready your escape it becomes clear that there’s far more to this outbreak than would appear and it’s up to you to stop it.
Considering that Dead Rising 3 is a next-gen only title you’d expect the graphics to be a bit of a step up from its predecessor however it looks largely the same as many of its previous generation counterparts. This is partly due to the fact that the scale of the game has been ramped up significantly, going from an apocalypse inside a mall up to an entire city being taken over. That increase in scale also means an order of magnitude of zombies on screen, something which is at odds with high end visuals. I’ll touch on the performance later however suffice to say that Dead Rising 3’s graphics are pretty average, even when you take into account the scale that it’s operating at.
Dead Rising 3’s game play follows the same formula as its predecessors, putting you in charge of a single character who has to make his way through untold hordes of zombies using anything he can find. As you massacre your way through you’ll be rewarded with levels and points which you can spend on improving various aspects of your character. The crafting system also makes a return however this time you’re also able to craft vehicles as well, something you’ll be doing a lot of if you want to get across town in any sort of reasonable time. You can now also bring survivors along with you, equipping them with weapons so they won’t just be zombie attractors who will die shortly after you rescue them. This, combined with the usual affair of achievements and collectables, means there’s dozens of hours of play time within Dead Rising 3, more than enough to keep even the most keen achievement hunters busy.
The combat feels largely the same as its predecessors, retaining the same 3rd person beat ’em up style that the Dead Rising franchise is known for. The variety of weapons ensures that you’re always finding news ways to dispatch large numbers of zombies quickly however it doesn’t take long to find the really overpowered combos that you’ll want to exploit. This is counterbalanced by the fact that some apparently powerful looking combos are pretty lacklustre although thankfully you won’t be spending a lot of time tracking down components in order to make them. The grim reaper, for example, trivializes much of the game and the store you originally find it in has enough to make 2 of them, enough to kill 1000 zombies.
The inclusion of vehicles in Dead Rising 3 is a necessity, given the scale, however the vehicle crafting adds a little entertainment to what would otherwise be one of the game’s more annoying aspects. Again there are certain combos which are just insane, like the turret rig, but their limited life means you likely won’t have access to one every time you need it. One more annoying aspect of the vehicles is that you’ll need to find one with enough seats for your crew if you’re going to use one otherwise you’ll simply leave them behind, never to be found again. Whilst this isn’t an issue if you’re near a garage often you’ll find yourself in the middle of no where needing some form of transportation and the 2 seater varieties seem to be far more common than their larger counterparts.
Which brings me to my next point: the survivors in your possie are usually a liability more than anything else which is frustrating considering there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell them to stay at a safe house. Their AI is incredibly basic, often getting stuck in wide open spaces, unable to figure out how to proceed until you knock them over and they redo their pathing. This is only made worse by the fact that they don’t seem to understand how to use their weapons properly as they’ll either do nothing until you do the same motion (I.E. they won’t melee unless you do) or they’ll wait until they’re swamped before attempting to do something. The only time they become useful is during boss fights but apart from that you’re better off just letting them meet their end.
As many other PC reviewers have noted Dead Rising 3 suffers from some major performance issues right off the bat, often struggling to render a single frame for seconds at a time. It’s largely tied to when you first see a large group of zombies for the first time however there are also random times when it occurs, often leaving the sound playing which ends up with the characters being wildly out of sync. Creating a user.ini file to unlock the framerate (it’s capped at 30 fps natively) and knocking down the graphics a couple notches pulls it into the realms of playable but it still manages to peg all aspects of my system, even when there isn’t much going on. This is even after a couple patches which you’d presume would’ve made the experience better but, honestly, in its default form Dead Rising 3 is an unplayable mess.
This is only made worse by the lacklustre story which attempts to err more towards the serious side of things rather than the more comedic style of its predecessors. Sure, the essence of the not-so-serious nature of Dead Rising games is still there (like your costume appearing in cut scenes or the cartoony boss fights) but overall it feels like they’re trying too hard to make the story serious. Whilst I admit you’d never play a Dead Rising game for its deep story content it still feels like a good chunk of what made Dead Rising games so fun was lost in the latest instalment which is a real disappointment.
Dead Rising 3 is another solid instalment in the series, one which is unfortunately marred by performance problems and lacklustre story elements. The essence of what made this franchise good is still there, like the ridiculous combat and comedic game elements, however it just falls short of the “must have” status that the original had. It’s still a blast to play, especially when you unlock some of the more overpowered combos, however there’s probably not enough in there to keep me coming back for untold hours at a time. I’m sure long time fans of the series will find a lot to like in Dead Rising 3 but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s flawless.
Dead Rising 3 is available on PC and XboxOne right now for $49.99 and $57 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours play time and 25% of the achievements unlocked.
Prior to the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d heard of Rocksteady Studios. Primarily this would be because they only had one title to their name before that, Urban Chaos: Riot Response, which wasn’t badly received but at the same time you’d struggle to find anyone who’d played it. Their following two instalments using the Batman IP however catapulted them to fame and their success led to them being acquired by Time-Warner shortly before the release of Arkham City. However the most recent instalment in this series, Batman: Arkham Origins comes to us not from the venerable Rocksteady but instead Warner Bros Games Montreal, a development house that’s familiar with the series (as they worked on the Wii-U port Arkham City). Combine that with the Joker no longer being voiced by Mark Hamill and fans of the series were decidedly nervous as there was no telling how this game would pan out.
Arkham Origins takes place long before the world that was established in the previous two games, going back to the beginnings where Bruce Wayne is just beginning his journey as the caped crusader of Gotham City. He’s been at it long enough to attract the attention of some of the city’s more nefarious criminals and this has resulted in Black Mask, a notorious underworld dealer who’s eluded conviction due to the numerous businesses he runs, putting a bounty on Batman’s head. He has also invited 8 different assassins to go after the bounty including many of Batman’s long time rivals. Of course Bruce can’t sit idly by and potentially let others be put in danger for his sake and so begins a long Christmas eve spent putting the beat down on Gotham’s worst.
Visually Arkham Origins is a small step up from its predecessor with the primary limitation of them progressing any further being the fact that it’s still being released on the current console generation. In all honesty though it still looks fantastic with all of the environments having an incredible amount of detail in them. I’m also somewhat thankful for this as my PC hardware is starting to get a little long in the tooth and whilst Arkham Origins looked great there were times when it began to noticeably slow down. However that wasn’t a frequent occurrence, even in the outdoor scenes where you could see far off into the distance.
Just like the 2 Arkham titles before it Origins keeps the core game play and style the same whilst adding in additional challenges, enemies and tactics to keep it feeling fresh. You’ll still spend most of your time beating the every loving crap out of various different types of enemies, the challenge ratcheting up every so often with the introduction of new types of enemies requiring different techniques to take them down. However you still have the option of being a silent predator at times, swooping through an area and taking out multiple enemies without being seen. Finally the core puzzle mechanics make a come back, albeit with a new mode to make things a little more interesting.
Combat, as always, is fast paced and meaty with every hit you land having a really satisfying feel to it. I always seem to start off feeling rather uncoordinated, getting my combos interrupted all the time by just not noticing the incoming attacks, but it doesn’t take long before I’m hitting huge multipliers and laying waste to everyone. One thing that has always irritated me is the initial lack of a way to take out large groups once you’ve knocked them all down as whilst you can do a ground take down on them all too often that results in you losing your combo string as it seems you can’t counter whilst in the middle of one. Later on of course you’ll unlock some better ways of dealing with them and after that combat starts to feel a lot more fluid.
However one criticism that I’ll level at it, and this has been true of all of the series, is that as you progress through the story the number of different things you can do during combat start to become a little overwhelming. Pretty often you’ll find yourself facing a knife wielder, a guy with a riot shield and probably a tough enemy that needs to be stunned before you can do anything. These require no less than 3 different methods of taking them out and when combined with the dozen or so quick fire gadgets you end up having to remember so many things that you’ll eventually just settle on a couple. They all become somewhat moot however with the introduction of the shock gloves and then all you have to focus on is getting enough charge in them so then you can lay the smack down on everything around you.
The stealth sections feel like they have remained largely unchanged although this could be primarily due to the fact that I didn’t invest many points in that skill tree until very late in the game. They’re still fun and somewhat challenging, especially the ones that have unique mechanics like the Deadshot encounter, but if you were looking for a markedly different or revamped experience you’re not going to find it. There’s also the possibility that I just wasn’t paying attention to some of the prompts and missed some new opportunities but I didn’t really have any problems accomplishing anything (unlike say in the Mr Freeze battle in Arkham City).
The detective mode/puzzles remain largely the same albeit making use of some of the new mechanics granted to you by the various gadgets that weren’t present in the previous titles. There’s also the addition of the crime scene mode which you use to reconstruct crimes to figure out details about how they happened and to track down the people responsible. For the most part it works well however it’s not made entirely clear when you have to move to a new section to continue the investigation, or what the expected behaviour is, so at first it was a little confusing. Still since it’s largely the same mechanic it still functions well even if it doesn’t feel as fresh or different as other aspects of the game are.
However the real problem with Arkham Origins is that whilst it retains the essence of what made the Arkham series so good it’s also marred by numerous bugs and glitches, many of them that are completely game breaking. The screenshot above depicts one of them where upon using certain abilities with knock back you can cement enemies in a wall or other object. They then become unreachable and whilst I was able to dislodge them after trying every gadget I had (I eventually found I needed to get them on an edge and then attempt to stun them so they’d fall backwards out of the box) it was an incredibly frustrating experience. This is not to mention one part in the Penguin’s ship where all the external doors just simply refused to work, making the opening noise but not allowing me through. This broke my trust with all the game mechanics so I spent the vast majority of the game wondering if I had completed a challenge successfully or if I had just encountered another game breaking issue. I’m not alone in thinking this either as my searches into the issue revealed the list of bugs is scarily long and even after it’s been out for this length of time there’s no patch in sight.
This, combined with the fact that Arkham Origins isn’t too much different from City in terms of overall play style, is probably the reason why there’s been such an abysmal reaction to it. I did my best to avoid any reviews prior to playing it however I unwittingly found out that Destructoid gave it 3.5 out of 10 and whilst I don’t agree with that score overall I understand the reasoning that went into it. Whilst I feel that Arkham Origins isn’t a bad game overall it is certainly the weakest of the series, showing very clearly that Warner Bros Montreal has a lot to learn before they can deliver a title that can be considered on par with the rest of the Arkham series. Whether or not they’ll get the chance to do so in light of the current reaction to Arkham Origins though remains to be seen.
As for the story I felt like it was a great introduction into the relationship between Batman and the Joker as whilst their relationship has been explored in depth in other mediums it was great to see how the rivalry began. The bucket list of other characters thrown in as assassins was unfortunately less well done as it just felt like a convenient way to throw them in without needing a coherent reason for them to be there. This was only exacerbated by the fact that they either had long, drawn out encounters (like Enigma) which just weren’t that fun to pursue or they were so short (like Anarchy) that you really didn’t have time for them to develop.
Should we judge Batman: Arkham Origins without the knowledge of the titles that followed it previously it would be easy to heap praise on it. The combat is engaging and satisfying, the exploration into the relationship between the Joker and Batman is intriguing and the world is filled with detail that few games manage to achieve. However it’s lineage set a high bar for it to live up to and the fact that it’s not different enough from Arkham City, combined with the numerous game breaking bugs, means that Arkham Origins is the weakest of all of the titles. I certainly enjoyed my time in it but there’s no mistaking that the developers behind it have their work cut out for them if they want to live up to the Rocksteady brand.
Rating: 7..0 / 10
Batman: Arkham Origins is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 13 hours of play time and 26% of the achievements unlocked.
Universal praise for a game is always something that will draw skepticism from me as it’s rare that a game will please everyone that plays it. Indeed this is the reason why I try to avoid the hype for any game now as I’ve had far too many receive wide critical acclaim (Bayonetta being the greatest example of this) only to find out that they just didn’t merit the high scores that were granted to them. Universal derision on the other hand is far more reliable with games that get hit with bad review after bad review usually being quite deserving of the title. Thus when I read about so many people taking Ride to Hell: Retribution to task I couldn’t help but witness this trainwreck for myself.
The year is 1969 and Jake Conway is a Vietnam veteran, returning home for the first time. He’s part of a biker gang, one that still has a lot of rivals, but he’s not interested in that, he just wants to live a quiet life with his brother. Past rivalries quickly catch up with him however and his brother is brutally murdered in front of him and Jake is mortally wounded. He survives, somehow, and swears revenge upon those who did this to him. So begins your ride to retribution, one that’s filled with poor game design choices and ludicrously bad implementation.
If Ride to Hell was an iOS/Android game I’d give it a pass for graphics as they’re at the level I’ve come to expect from a mobile platform. However this game saw a release on both major consoles and PC which means they knew they had a decent amount of grunt to work with and simply didn’t make use of it. Now this is usually done for a reason, like when you’re expecting a lot of action on screen and don’t want the FPS to drop, but Ride to Hell has none of that and so the only conclusion you can come up with is that either the developers ran out of time or they were simply not capable of producing something that was better. I’m tending towards the former however as the rest of the game smacks of something that was rushed to release.
For starters the models and animations are either weird or just plain terrible. For starters look at the hands above, for Jake on the left they look normal-ish but on his brother they’re freakishly oversized. Not only that his jacket is fully rigid, hovering a good half a foot off his back at all times. It gets worse when every character flaps their mouth in a wide gape every time they talk which just draws attention to the stiff animation of nearly everything else within Ride to Hell. Indeed you get the feeling that some of this stuff was just placeholder animations whilst they worked on getting better ones in but they just never got the time to do so.
This rushed feeling permeates throughout Ride to Hell as nearly every aspect of the game feels like there was so much more planned for it but it never saw the light of day. Even in it’s decidedly half-assed state the game still takes up a whopping 10GB worth of space which, when compared to something like Tomb Raider which is about the same size, shows that their ambitions far exceeded their grasp. All this is likely a product of its tumultuous origin story which has seen this turd of a game be in development for 5 years prior to its release.
The port to PC hasn’t done it any favours either as they’ve literally just made sure it works on the platform and then done nothing to improve the experience. Like many gamers I have a native resolution for my monitor and if I don’t play games at that res then they tend to look like crap. Well Ride to Hell doesn’t even have an option to change the resolution nor any other graphics options that have been standard for years. Worse still all the menus and interfaces show their console first nature with the mouse being unusuable in any of them. They also break several gaming conventions for typical bindings for command keys, a sin few can get away with.
Combat in Ride to Hell is a mixture of third person cover based shooting and “freeflow” beat ’em up combat. It’s obvious that different sections of the game were designed for different types of combat however you’re free to choose whatever method you see fit. So this means if the developers wanted you to melee the next section and you whip our your gun it’s quite likely you can take out the whole room as they run blindly at you. Similarly if an enemy was programmed to use his guns then you going in fists first usually means they won’t block at all and you can take them out rather quickly.
The AIs also seem to have no idea about line of sight as there were many time s I could hear gun shots but not see any bullets flying nor the enemy that was shooting them. Eventually I’d find one of them hiding behind a pillar or something similar, randomly firing rounds in my direction but hitting the giant obstacle in their way. You could also do the old hide just around the corner trick where they can see you, but not hit you, and then just line up the perfect head shot to take them out in one go. Even the melee guys, who in most games will charge directly at you in order to get you to engage, just stand there doing nothing if you’re around a corner. Needless to say the AI needs a lot of work if it even wants to match 2008 standards.
It’s obvious that Ride to Hell: Retribution was designed to be some kind of open world game, ala Grand Theft Auto. The first indication I got of this was a lot of the dialogue made reference to locations with directions, as if you were going to be taking yourself there. Indeed the amount of assets used between sections for the various races/quick time event combat encounters would lead you to believe that it’s one big continuous world. It’s pretty much confirmed when you get given your home base which allows you to choose missions, buy upgrades and customize your ride which are all features you’d expect in a sandbox style game.
The amount of effort put into these side features shows that the ambitions of this game were much higher than what they managed to achieve. The bike customization for instance is pretty detailed with nearly every part of the bike customizable. However the second you get to it 90% of the parts are unlocked with only a few requiring you to do something to be able to use them. Not only does this remove much of the incentive to keep on playing it also signals that they likely had many more collectibles/achievements planned that would unlock additional bike customizations.
The skill/weapon upgrade system is incredibly basic, to the point where it looks like it was slapped on at the last minute to give the player some sense of progression. However since all the weapons are available to you it doesn’t make sense to buy anything but the best in its category and after the first mission you have enough cash to buy the best one from at least one of the weapon classes. The melee combat skills are simply not worth your time as they don’t fundamentally change the way combat flows nor do they make it particularly easier.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is terrible, suffering from development woes that should have seen it dead and buried, not released to the public in it’s god awful state. Every aspect of it is unfinished and the band aids put on top to try and it up only make it worse, highlighting every undeveloped aspect. There’s really nothing redeemable about Ride to Hell at all except for maybe it serving as yet another text book case of why some games should just be allowed to die rather than be released to the public. I honestly feel for the devs as it looks like this game was meant for so much more but its development story has instead resulted in this turd that’s only appeal is how terrible it is.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $14, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 21% of the achievements unlocked.
My previous post on games and female protagonists sparked an interesting conversation among my friends as we tried to recall all the games we’d played that had either a female lead character or at least one that played a major role in the game’s story. Even though we play a fairly broad range of titles the number of strong female characters we could name was dwarfed by their male counterparts, something that seems particularly odd now that 45% of all gamers are women. Thankfully that seems to be changing (albeit slowly) as games like Remember Me are becoming more frequent, even if they have to fight for their very existence.
You awake in an all white cell, your memory being wiped clean as part of the intake process for the prison you’re being kept in. A doctor approaches you and starts asking you rudimentary questions, trying to figure out just how much of yourself remains after your treatment. It seems that you’re somewhat resistant to the Sensen’s memory wiping ability and need to be sent elsewhere for further treatments. However whilst you’re on your way to what appears to be your final doom you’re contacted by a man called Edge who helps you escape. The world you’re then thrust into however is a dark and terrifying one that’s under the control of the Memorize corporation. Not directly however, but simply because their technology allows anyone to forget the most painful moments of their life turning them into memory junkies. Edge wants you to fight them and you can’t fight the compulsion to do so.
Remember Me is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from current generation console titles as it’s able to make full use of all the hardware power that’s available to it. The game incorporates all the modern effects: high amounts of motion blur, high resolution textures and it’s own glitchy overlay whilst also keeping its frame rate at a solid 60 fps. I will take slight issue with the lip synching as, outside the cutscenes, it’s either done extremely poorly or just not at all. It’s really the only let down in the whole audio/visual experience as pretty much everything else is spot on.
The game play of Remember Me is a mix of beat em up style combat, logic puzzles and an unique mechanic whereby you remix someone’s memories in order for them to do what you want them to. Whilst the fundamentals of each of these core mechanics will be familiar to most long time gamers they all have their own twist to them that makes them unique to the Remember Me world. By far the most intricate of them all is the combat system which you can heavily customize to suit your style of play. The logic puzzles and memory remixing are somewhat simplistic by comparison but are still an enjoyable part of the overall game play.
Combat follows the Arkham Asylum/Arkham City model of beat em up where you spend the majority of your time attempting to land combos whilst enemies throw themselves at you. It’s a little more nuanced and is reminiscent of fighter game combos where you must hit every button at the right time and in the right order to pull it off. However the combo aid at the bottom of the screen helps a lot and it’s also far more forgiving than any fighter game I’ve ever played. The really cool thing about the combat system though is the customization allowing you to change how the combo works and what benefits landing it will give you.
You have 4 types of “pressens” which are mapped to the buttons on the controller. The first is the damage one which, as its name implies, will increase the damage dealt by that particular strike. Regeneration ones will give you health upon landing a hit and cooldown pressens reduce the time between the use of your special abilities (more on those later). The final one is the chain pressen which inherits all the pressens that came before it making it a powerful tool for creating combos that are truly crazy. There’s also the twist of pressens having more effect the further along in the combo they are which, when you’re dealing with an 8 hit combo, can make a pressen that felt useless suddenly become really viable. You can also chop and change between the pressens during combat, allowing you to adjust your fighting style to the challenges at hand.
You’ll be doing this more often than you think as whilst towards the end you’ll have enough pressens and combos available to you to cover any situation initially you’ll either be short of either of them at any given time. My original 8 hit combo felt like the perfect fit for pretty much any situation but when you’re surrounded by 8 enemies at a time it became incredibly hard to land and thus needed to be reworked into a 5 and 3 hit combo respectively. There’s also certain types of enemies that will require you to build a combo just to take them down especially if their death relies on using one of your special abilities.
Augmenting your regular punches and kicks are s-pressens, special abilities that allow you to deal with the varying challenges much easier and quicker than you could do otherwise. They’re unlocked gradually, always as part of the game throwing a new type of enemy at you that basically requires that s-pressen to take them down, and how you use them is really up to you. They also rely on focus, shown as the white/blue bar above, which is generated whenever you hit or are hit by someone. In the beginning they’re quite cool and feel like the ultimate get out of jail free card but eventually their effectiveness starts to drop off and their use becomes something of a necessity.
This is probably where Remember Me starts to struggle as ramping up the difficulty involves nullifying the abilities that have been granted to you whilst throwing ever increasing numbers of enemies at you. It’s something that the whole games industry is struggling with at the moment, the idea of providing challenge whilst keeping the player engaged, but simply throwing more bodies or removing player options is most certainly more towards the anti-fun part of the spectrum and should honestly be avoided. Of course you could argue that due to its hack ‘n’slash nature Remember Me implies that this is how the challenge will be ramped up but I find that a poor excuse for a game that incorporates such a nuanced combat system in the first place. I don’t pretend to have a solution to this, indeed even the game designers I know say that this is something that the best struggle to achieve, but it’s definitely one of those things that will count against a game in my view.
The memory remixing puzzles are quite awesome as they play on the idea of small changes having big impacts on how something would play out. Whilst the outcomes are relatively fixed, I.E. there’s no emergent behaviour possible in any of them, the different outcomes are quite varied and the difference between a successful remix and a failure can be something as simple as doing something too early, or too late. There’s also a ton of red herrings in all of them, things that when modified won’t do anything at all, which keeps you second guessing your decisions right up until everything falls into place. I can’t really talk about it much more without spoiling the crap out of some of the puzzles but suffice to say it’s really good despite the fact it didn’t feature as prominently as I thought it would.
Outside of the memory remixing there’s a bunch of puzzles that make use of Remembranes, fragments of memory that you purloin from other people in order to move forward. They start off as being easy timing puzzles, usually involving you avoiding detection from robots that move in a predictable pattern, but they eventually graduate into riddles that unlock codes forcing you to decipher the ramblings of a man who was driven insane. They’re a small part of the game however and you could usually stumble through them without thinking about it too hard although I will admit I got caught on the second to last puzzle involving the hominus/m3morize/evolutio words.
One point that bears mentioning is the strange, strange world that Remember Me exists in. Now I’m not talking about the major plot points that drive the story that revolve around the Memorize memory technology, more that whilst the developers have strived to create a world that feels alive they’ve in fact created one that’s just simply weird. There are robots everywhere, and I mean everywhere, but apart from the patrol robots not a single one will react to you, not even ones that are in places where you’re not supposed to be (despite being a wanted criminal). They’ve obviously been put there to make it feel like the city is alive in some way without them having to code in a lot of people (which do exist, but are few and far between) but instead it creates this weird atmosphere where you’d expect them to react to you but they don’t. You’d probably be better just leaving them out because having them there just creates this extremely odd atmosphere.
Remember Me’s story is quite gripping once you get over the stumbling block of Nilin implicitly trusting Edge and doing everything he asks. They touch on this very point with the inter-chapter monologues that help to bridge over some of the more glaring plot issues, but it essentially leaves Nilin without any particular motivation for a good chunk of the game. It does morph into a much more rich and detailed story towards the end however, even though quite a lot of things are still left unclear, and the last couple hours were intense enough for everyone in my house to stop what they were doing in order to watch everything to the end. It’s definitely far above what I’ve come to expect from these kinds of games and Dotnod Entertainment should be commended for making a strong female lead, even if there’s a few rough edges.
For a new IP Remember Me does incredibly well, showcasing some incredibly refined game mechanics with a top notch story that combine to produce a well rounded and highly polished game experience. It still has some teething issues, something which is not uncommon to games trying out new ideas, but it manages to pull the majority of them off without sacrificing other aspects of the game. A strong female lead is also a welcome addition something which hopefully won’t be considered a controversial choice for too much longer. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Remember Me and would recommend it for anyone seeking out a fresh experience that’s unlike anything else that’s come before it.
Remember Me is available on PlayStation3, Xbox360 and PC right now for $79, $79 and $49.99 respectively. Game was played on the PlayStation 3 on the Errorist Agent difficulty with around 8 hours of total play time and 39% of the achievements unlocked.
If there’s one type of game that hasn’t seen much of a revival thanks to the indie development explosion of the last couple years its the top down style of games that was made popular by the Grand Theft Auto series. It should be no surprise really as these kinds of games tend to be quite limiting in what they can do thanks to the fixed perspective, often limiting them to puzzle type games like To The Moon or the aforementioned predecessor of one of today’s most successful third person shooters. Hotline Miami then is the first game in this style that I’ve played in quite a long time and it does not fail to disappoint.
Hotline Miami winds back the clock to 1989, dropping you (funnily enough) in the tropical megalopolis that is Miami. You play as an unnamed man who’s a contract killer, receiving all sorts of weird coded messages on your answering machine that are the location of your next target. At every scene the ritual is the same, you go to your car, don a mask to conceal your identity and then proceed to unleash all sorts of hell upon the people contained within that building. However as the game goes on your world begins to slowly unravel and you start to question what’s real and what isn’t.
As I alluded to earlier Hotline Miami does feel a lot like the original Grand Theft Auto did back in the day with the top down perspective and pixelart graphics being the main factors behind this. However unlike Grand Theft Auto you’re not limited to simple up/down/left/right movement and thus the game plays a hell of a lot more smoothly than it or any other top down game I’ve played in recent times. This is also probably due to the fact that it uses the GameMaker engine underneath which supports DirectX which ensures that no matter how much action is on screen you won’t experience an ounce of slow down.
The developers behind Hotline Miami have described it as a “top-down fuck ’em up” and that description could not be more appropriate. The aim of any level is to clear out all the enemies out of a particular section and there are several ways to go about it. You almost always start off with nothing so your first victim will likely be taken down by the liberal use of your fists applied directly to their face. After that you’ve likely got your hands on some form of weapon which you can then use to dispatch enemies at a much faster rate. Of course there’s also a myriad of guns available should you be able to pry them away from their current owners but the use of them has a price.
Hotline Miami also incorporates stealth as a game mechanic which, depending on the level, you will almost certainly have to make use of from time to time. This also means that the use of guns will attract all enemies within a certain radius to you which can be both a good and a bad thing depending on the situation you’re in. It’s actually quite a neat little mechanic as there are many levels that can be easily breezed through with a knife but will be hell if you try to use any kind of gun, something which I found out after repeating a single section dozens of times.
There’s also a rudimentary levelling system in Hotline Miami which is based off of your score given to you at the end of each level. Now I couldn’t quite figure out how the scoring system worked (as the above screenshot shows I always seemed to score above the total points, unless that isn’t it) but it did appear to be directly related to when I’d unlock something. There are 2 kinds of unlockables in Hotline Miami: masks and weapons. Whilst the latter is somewhat out of your control (weapons are all randomly generated) the former can put quite an interesting twist on how levels play out and can be crucial to certain play styles.
The masks will confer some small benefit to you which is loosely based around the animal/thing they’re based off of. Most of them are simple things like extra ammunition or faster executions but others can be nigh on game breaking in terms of the benefits they bestow. My favourite by far was Don Juan as that one turns doors that you open onto enemies lethal which usually allowed me to fire off a single shot, run behind a door and then proceed to eliminate the entire room with several doors to the face. Playing that way might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was pretty damn fun racking up massive combos in that fashion.
What really lets Hotline Miami down though is the bugs and crashes. I noticed at the start that it asked me if I wanted to disable SteamWorks as a few people were having trouble with it and at the time I thought I’d keep it on just to see how it played out. After about an hour or so I got a (handled) exception and the background sprite failed to render which wasn’t game breaking as I had just finished the level at that point. However after that I started getting unhanded exceptions on a particular level (I think it was “Clean Hit”) and they persisted even after multiple restarts and disabling SteamWorks.
The only way I was able to progress was opening up the saves.dat file which was thankfully not binary and had a pretty easy to decipher structure. Essentially I unlocked a couple levels ahead of myself so I could skip over the level that was causing it to crash and whilst this let me play the next two levels the crashing started happening again much to my disappointment. I’m not the only one experiencing this either and thankfully it looks like the developers are onto it. If I’m honest it would probably be worth waiting for the update before playing it again as it can be extremely frustrating losing your progress in a level, even if it might not take that long to get back there.
The story of Hotline Miami is a surreal experience with the initial encounters being relatively normal (save for the talking to the masked men section) but they slowly morph into what seems like a fever dream that your character is experiencing. It’s intriguing mostly because of all the little clues scattered throughout the game that seem to hint that your character is coming unhinged and you start to question what’s real and what’s not. I haven’t had the chance to finish the game fully due to the extensive crashing (I’m up to the last level, however) so I can’t comment on whether it concludes well or not but suffice to say the story is much more than something tacked on at the end to keep you playing.
Hotline Miami is a brutal, psychedelic beat ’em up that excels in making over the top violence extremely fun, to the point of you worrying about what kind of person enjoying this game makes you. Whilst it might be plagued with crashes that will frustrate many Hotline Miami really is good enough to make you want to keep playing, something which surprised me as I’m not usually that tolerant. If you’ve been pining for the days of the original Grand Theft Auto then Hotline Miami is right up your alley and I dare say that you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more.
Hotline Miami is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was approximately 2 hours with 9% of the achievements unlocked (probably more due to the lack of SteamWorks and plethora of crashes).
Arkham Asylum was one of the sleeper hits of 2009. It definitely wasn’t your traditional AAA title combining elements of several different genres of games into one well thought out experience. I have to admit I was sceptical of it at first, games based off comic or movie IP are traditionally quite bad, but it pleasantly surprised me. I was then quite excited when I heard about the sequel Arkham City which apparently had been hinted at in Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately I was torn between getting the collector’s edition on console or playing it on the PC, a decision that took me far too long to make. In the end I decided to play it on PC again and I’m glad I did.
Arkham City starts out with you as Bruce Wayne who’s campaigning for Arkham City, in essence a prison camp, to be shut down. Things take a turn for the worse when Hugo Strange’s mercenaries show up and throw him into city where Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce is Batman and should he try to stop his “Protocol 10” solution he will reveal that to the world. After a short altercation with the Penguin and some of his goons Bruce calls in a drop for his bat suit and begins his journey to stop Strange’s plan.
Both the visuals and the art direction of Arkham City are vastly improved from its predecessor. To Rocksteady’s credit they’ve done a pretty good job with the optimization too as even at the highest settings I was still able to run the game at high frame rates. Still there were occasions where it would slow down inexplicably as it wasn’t consistent with being inside/outside nor with heavy action. Still the graphics are great, the interactions between characters are no longer stilted affairs and the overall ambition for Arkham City is much greater than it was for Arkham Asylum and they’ve managed to achieve it well.
The core mechanics of Arkham City haven’t changed that much from Arkham Asylum but there have been some notable additions. Due to the sheer scale of Arkham city the glide mechanic has been reworked considerably now enabling batman to, in essence, fly around the entire city almost unaided. This mechanic is made good use of as well by many of the quests and mini-games with things like flying to a certain point with limited time or giving you augmented reality challenges that unlock additional equipment and upgrades. Flying around like this was probably one of my favourite things to do in Arkham City considering you couldn’t do anything like this in its predecessor.
Combat has stayed relatively the same with most of the kinks that I complained about in Arkham Asylum being worked out. There are numerous additional gadgets available, different enemy types and new take down manoeuvres that serve to make the combat experience much more varied but at its heart its still very much the same as its predecessor. This isn’t a bad thing though as the combat in Arkham Asylum was done very well and the added variation in Arkham City keeps it faithful whilst making it stand on its own.
Whilst the combat is good it does tend to get a little samey as the game progresses but this is thankfully broken up well by the unique boss encounters. Each of them will make use of Batman’s array of gadgets in a particular way, forcing you of the regular hack ‘n’ slashy combat and into a real tactical challenge. Don’t get me wrong its’ a pretty awesome feeling when you pull of a 70+ hit combo on legions of foes but nothing got my adrenaline going as much as the boss fights did. None of them felt like a complete cock block either, something which can be hard if you’re trying to hit that fine line between satisfying challenge and impassable obstacle.
The Riddler puzzles were usually interesting but I didn’t really feel the compulsion to seek them out. Whilst its pretty easy to come across them as you’re flying around Arkham City I only ever really went after one if my health was low. Talking this over with my brother he said that the challenges felt somewhat dumbed down from the predecessor and this is probably why most people (outside those hunting for achievements) don’t really want to bother with them. I can’t for the life of me remember what the challenges were like back in Arkham Asylum but the vast majority of the puzzles in Arkham City did feel quite easy.
Just like Arkham Asylum Arkham City sets out an environment where almost the entire back catalogue of Batman super villains can make an appearance without having to having to have a back story to explain why they hell they’re there. It’s a kind of cheap way of getting them all together in the same area but it works well as it leads you to have many unique encounters based around those particular villain’s modus operandi. The screenshot above from the Mad Hatter encounter was a great example of this, putting you in a surreal world in which you have to fight your way through to get back to reality. I liken it to the Scarecrow encounters of Arkham Asylum, unique encounters that break away from the main game in order to mix things up a bit.
The way in which you come across these kinds of unique encounters though is one of the more common complaints I’ve heard about Arkham City. Indeed Arkham Asylum was far more linear in its game play owing to its comparatively closed environment. Arkham City on the other hand is a true sandbox style game, pushing you to follow the main plot line whilst also throwing up dozens of side quests that can be done at your leisure. Truthfully this can get a little overwhelming at times as you can’t go too far without triggering one of these quests and after you’ve done a few of them you don’t feel the compulsion to seek them out as often. It is definitely is one of the weaker aspects of Arkham City.
The sections where you play as Catwoman are interesting although I must admin they weren’t my favourite part of Arkham City. The different Riddler trophies for example seem to be a cheap way to reuse the same assets, forcing you to go back to somewhere you’ve already explored in order to collect them. Since the differences between Catwoman and Batman is limited to the lack of gadgets, lack of detective mode and no glide ability it’s not different enough to make for a break from the core Batman play. I like that Rocksteady are experimenting with things like this, it shows they have confidence in their abilities to make AAA titles like Arkham City, but they’d need to work on differentiating the playable characters a bit more ion order for them to really shine.
Overall Arkham City improves greatly on its predecessor in technical terms with the graphics being improved, the glitches being ironed out and amping up the ambition of the game significantly. It’s not without its faults however owing to the transition to true sandbox style play and some compromises made to appeal to a wider audience. Still unlike many sequels Arkham City stands very well on its own as an unique game that draws well on its rich IP heritage. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to both fans and new comers to the Arkham series.
Batman: Arkham City is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 33% of the achievements unlocked.