Saturday, 24 May 2014

Giving Transistor a 10

I really loved Transistor and having read a few other reviews compared to >>>mine<<< it's been interesting to find that other people were cold on aspects of the game that I found extremely endearing.

Most of the reasons I gave it full marks for both Strategy Informer and Family Gamer TV are because it's a wonderfully designed and beautifully realised video game. The combat, story, art design and soundtrack all fuse to create an experience that was an dramatic evolution from Supergiant Games first work - Bastion.

Personally, and I mean that in the subjective reviewer sense, Transistor represents the type of game I really want to see more of.

I'm a thirty something father of three. Like so many who grew up with the classic video game systems (C64/Amiga/AT PC) we've gone from having tons of spare time and raging hormones about the girl next door to a family, close to zero free time and a receding hair line. Much as I'd love to have the time to play 1000 hours of DOTA or revel in multiple playthroughs of Persona 4 Golden, I can't. It's physically impossible for me to do that kind of thing any more and so the emergence of high-quality, sub-ten hour video games is a gift from the Goddess herself.

Does that mean I mark a game favourably for that alone - no, of course not. There's plenty of short games that are fair to middling (or downright terrible) but a few, like Transistor, really hit the spot with their storytelling, gameplay and length.

Transistor was just the right length to make me want more but not so long as to bore me with its core gameplay. I've started the Recursion mode and enjoy the increase in difficulty. It's something I'll come back to when I feel like it so I can iron out the full story and world, but I don't need to in order to experience the main story and enjoy it.

I'm ok with spending £16 on a game I'll play for maybe 5-6 hours and never pick up again if people like to boil it down to quantifiable elements. I've spent far more than that on games I've never progressed further than the first few hours. Transistor on the other hand, really drew me into its world because of its aloofness and the blank sheet you're given in the first few moments. No huge info-dump or spoon-feeding, just 'here's the game, get up and get on with it sailor' kinda attitude.

I'm drawn to that minimalism or deliberate obfuscation of the narrative and if the art design and world presented to me is enticing enough, then I'm fully committed to finding out its secrets. That sense of exploration is priceless because you only get it once (until they develop a mind wipe for that stuff, which would be awesome and scary). I didn't watch any trailers or read any previews of Transistor, just got it and played it, with everything I discovered a fresh new experience.

That, I guess, is a choice that most gamers have but Supergiant Games deliberately kept their marketing to a minimum and made this sense of discovery part of that crucial first experience - much like Fez or Braid. That kind of game presentation goes a long way in my book and it was that, plus the numorous other aspects detailed in my two reviews that made Transistor special.

Alright, that's enough wittering! I'm now moving on to Valiant Hearts: The Great War, a puzzle/adventure game set amidst the First World War. It's got my name written all over it so look for a video preview on Family Gamer TV tomorrow and hopefully some further coverage soon.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Transistor and a StatusUpdate()

Hey everyone. I'm back freelancing again and happy to be resuming my status at Strategy Informer & also contributing to Family Gamer TV on their YouTube channel. Over the past month I've covered Escape Goat 2, Ghost Recon Phantoms & The Last Tinker: City of Colors for Strategy Informer. Please check them out!

For FGTV I've been doing a semi-regular Minecraft Mod Show - hardly unique I know but I'm using it as way to get familiar with the video format and fill in a major gap in FGTVs coverage (IMHO of course). I've also started a few video reviews for them as well, namely The Last Tinker, which should be up any day now, and Transistor.

That new game from the Bastion developers is one I'm also covering for Strategy Informer. The review embargo lifts on Tuesday 20th May at 6pm BST so look out for it appearing then. I can't say anything specific right now but I'm going to risk my professional reputation (haha) and say you probably won't be disappointed if you pick it up on Tuesday.

I'm currently evaluating my career and debating about what direction to go in. Right now my time for writing/freelancing is limited by family commitments but I'm also considering if I want to go back down that freelance writer path again. I'd love to get into more video work but again, I'm really put off by becoming just another freelance writer/video hack. I don't feel my command of English is powerful enough to go toe to toe with others out there and I'd really prefer to go my own way, with my own perspective and style. Turning that into a paying gig however, is the trick.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Xenoblade Chronicles - Soulful Gamer review (GamePeople)

As the Wii stumbles anaemically towards the end of its life cycle for core gamers, Xenoblade Chronicles provides a surprising stab of adrenaline for those starved of soulful Wii titles. As a parable about Man versus Machine it delivers a dramatic story leaving the setting of Bionis to shine has a truly unique world to journey in.

Three Years?

Bloody hell. Three years?

As you might gather I've left the videogame writing business behind and focussed on other pursuits - like making enough money to support a family of three boys!

To be honest it became blindingly obvious that writing in the manner I wanted to about games was simply un-economical. Nobody really wants to read about someone finding meaning or emotion within a gaming experience, not enough to make it financially viable, and definitely not enough for me to warrant the time I was spending on it.

Besides, my focus these days has turned away from gaming - sure, I still play and I still find myself wanting to write about them but it's not a skill that comes naturally to me. Bashing out quality work used to take me far too long and when that work payed barely anything the incentive to do it quickly evaporated.

So why the hell have I kept this website around? Good question, not sure I know why precisely but I still have that nagging feeling that I have it within myself to write something good about this form of media. Challenging even. Whether that falls under the 'Soulful' moniker I'm not sure, but I'll give if I do it, it'll be here.

One aspect of gaming that has bugged me for a while was it's tiptoe into the same bullshit propaganda that the rest of the world's media has fallen into. Too many games reinforce stereotypes, repeat cliches and serve up bogus retellings of history. I even outlined a book about these issues that never got beyond my whiteboard, but the seed of that idea is still good to go once I find the time to do it.

So for now this is me just dusting the place down a little. Don't know if I'll be back soon or later but I'll put up my final review that I did for Gamepeople back in 2010. Seems so silly now that I thought I could make a living out of doing that!

Glad I went out with Xenoblade Chronicles. It remains one of my favourite games of all time and, I think, I wrote a pretty good review too.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Majin, Venetica and Winter Voices

Namco Bandai's Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom was a really interesting game to play. Not just because I enjoyed (eventually) the characters and the setting it sometimes struggled to portray but because it was the first time I'd played code well before its release. As well it being pretty damned nice to have several weeks before a deadline when I'm busy working in the day, it also meant I didn't have to tear my hair out at some of the puzzles in the game. I'm one of those gamers that will quite happily refer to a walkthrough to get past most of the gameplay elements so I can continue to experience the story or characters.

Majin doesn't give you much help with its puzzles and I shudder to think how foul my mood would've been if I'd had just a few days to play it. Anyway, what intrigued me most about Majin was how very reminiscent its tone and atmosphere was of ICO. It didn't achieve this by the same methods that Team ICO used - with subtle and almost near-silent narrative - instead it uses the developing partnership between Tepeu and Majin as the focus in gameplay and during moments of exposition.

By making each role essential to the other character you begin to rely on the Majin for all combat situations and he relies on you for guidance and instruction. There's not much in the way of groundbreaking mechanics here but I loved the way your role in the game wasn't to be the muscle-bound dude who cracked skulls and farted out one-liners like a crappy movie. This made Majin feel much more thoughtful and it's a slow and ponderous experience unlike most other games on the console.

My review is over on GamePeople right now along with another from Jon Seddon and I'll be reviewing it again for Strategy Informer in the next couple of days. Which comes with the added bonus of putting a score on it. Oh the controversy.

Soulful Gamer review - Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom.htm

Dressup Gamer review - Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom.htm


I had hoped to cover ArcaniA: Gothic 4 as well but I've no idea if they actually released the game on the Xbox 360 yet. It was meant to be out in October but the last I saw was that it won't be out until March 2011. In the meantime I've dived into Venetica - which was out last year in Germany and just released last week in the rest of Europe and the US. After about 11 hours it's a fairly typical European RPG with some awful frame-rate issues and subtitles that are nearly always mis-spelt or wrong. Even an achievement couldn't spell 'Complete' correctly which goes someway to showing how rushed this port to the console was or how inexperienced some developers are away from their platform of choice.

None of that impacts the actual game too much and I'm vaguely enjoying it - probably because my lack of a decent PC means I'm restricted to what European RPGs I can try. Playing as Death's daughter and hunting down some undead nasties has nice ring of irony to it and I'm looking forward to seeing if it goes down a cliched path towards the end or tries to veer off and do something different. I say that because it isn't shy of killing off characters from the beginning and even though it wraps the whole experience up in typical RPG fodder I'm finding myself strangely intrigued.

Winter Voices

That could also describe the brief period of time I've spent with Winter Voices - an episodic RPG available on Steam for £3.49 for each chapter. I'm about an hour into the prologue and so far it's done a great job of presenting something completely different and unexpected.

Set in a frozen and snowy village the game opens with the unexpected death of your father and whilst in the house with his body, malevolent memories appear from the shadows and begin to attack. Sounds corny as hell but Winter Voices is presented in such a delicate and beautiful way that the threat posed by these Will'o the Wisp entities feels tangible and perilous.

Combat is a different too. The game is presented in an isometric view and a grid is overlaid for turn-based combat. But instead of using explosive magic to obliterate these enemies you have only evasion and suppressive skills to employ. It's a completely different way of dealing with the threats of old memories and evokes a very unique atmosphere.

It ain't perfect though and I've already come across two battles where my objective was to simply survive for 15 turns, with no real purpose or relation to the story. Ostensibly it's meant to portray memories creeping into your subconscious and threatened to engulf you - but it comes across in this instance as just damn annoying.

The best part to Winter Voices is the narration and writing in that first hour. It seriously sent chills down my back and if they can keep this up throughout all seven episodes then Winter Voices cold be a very special indie game indeed.

Oh, I almost forgot - I played Fable 3 as well. The very fact I almost forgot to put it in here says a lot about the latest title from a franchise I've always liked. Quite simply it's an unremarkable, unmemorable effort that feels half-mauled by the Kinect integration that appears to have been ripped out 6 months before launch. For all its accessible-focused design, Fable 3 lacks any soul whatsoever and portrays the same black/white morality system that made Infamous such a disappointment as well.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Getting Vanquished with viral marketing

As much as I love my vidjagames I'm as cynical as the next guy when it comes to marketing and advertising. It's one of the main reasons why I don't watch TV as nothing gets me more riled up than the latest pretentious arsery of car commercials.

The recent Halo Reach campaign was also full of bullshit. Nothing stinks more than trying to make a product or game seem holier-than-thou or emotionally moving when you go around and shoot alien fools in the face.

But this recent gem from Sega that puts a personal slant on the trailer for Vanquish struck me as pretty cool and interesting. Type in your postcode and you should see your street appear towards the end of the trailer, being obilterated just like San Francisco is in the beginning of the game. Try it out below.


It's the first time I've been impressed with an advert about a videogame. It's nothing groundbreaking but by offering some interaction rather than smacking you in the face with its message, I feel a little more receptive to its presence.

Is this an indication of a new type of marketing? Or just a one-off by someone bold enough to push through a crazy idea to fruition? I bring this up because I'm intrigued as to the current trend of interactive content prior to a game release.

With Dead Rising 2: Case Zero we have a prelude to the main game and also the ability to transfer content over from to the main game once it's released. The same with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit - the demo allows you to begin levelling up and will transfer that progress on acquiring the full game. Could advertising be next on the agenda? What do you think?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Comic Jumper, Dead Rising 2 and moooovin'

I hate these guys SO MUCH

It's been a while since Comic Jumper came out for XBLA and it's offensive presence in my mind has remained despite other, more important games, and real life stuff popping up in the meantime. I reviewed it for GamePeople and XBLAFans were kind enough to republish it on their site. I have to admit that it's not my best work by any stretch. When a game infuriates me so much, as Comic Jumper did, it can be very difficult to condense your thoughts into something readable and cohesive. I task I didn't quite live up to.

I know my problems with the game's attempt at parody and portrayal of women is in the minority (this is only a videogame we're talking about right? So those subject don't really matter...) but the core gameplay itself was so unbalanced, uninteresting and dull that I'm baffled as to how it could get such high scores across the board. Anyway, if you want to read a much better dissection of the game's problems then check out Jeffrey Sandlin's review over at Bitmob. It hasn't got anywhere near the attention it deserves - give it a boost and make him happy!

After that nonsense I was pretty much convinced that Dead Rising 2 would be an equally difficult experience. I'd played only a brief part of the first game and as much as I enjoyed Case Zero, I thought the long and winding road of a full Dead Rising game would piss me off something stupid. Well I'll be Betty Ford if it hasn't blown me away with its madcap play and surprisingly meaningful moments. I don't mean in any full on, Nier-like meditation about a father-daughter relationship and the bitterness of the apocalypse. Rather, the blend of sheer fun you can have within DR2's setting is contrasted wonderfully with some of the psychopath encounters.

Dressed up in gore, slapstick comedy and pathos, these moments can contain some bizarrely poignant scenes. Slappy the mascot springs to mind immediately and despite being an absolute bitch to kill unless you're at a high-level, his final few moments were surprisingly melodramatic. Elsewhere this theme is repeated with survivors and psychopaths alike. Others are more overt commentaries on America or the West in general and although laced with irony and humour, still have a subtle power to them (well, to me at least).

This is what I love most about Dead Rising 2. You can be hacking down zombies with an augmented chainsaw motorbike one moment and then taking on a load of anti-socialist Southern Hicks the next - all the time searching for the next dose of Zombrex that your daughter needs to stay alive.

My review is over at GamePeople and it will be the last frequent contribution I make for that website. I'm moving on in order to widen my experience at other sites and I wish the editors over there all the best for the future. I'll still be maintaining a presence, probably once a month at the most, so I won't be gone completely but my days of providing large amounts of content are over.

My new gig is with Strategy Informer and you can check out my review for History: Great Battles Medieval over there. It's strange to be giving a score to a game after years of writing for a site that doesn't deal with them but I'm enjoying the challenge of writing mainstream copy instead of more niche and focused material. Hopefully it will help me improve my writing and put a stop to the bad habits I'm sure I've fallen into (just count how many times I write 'certainly')

So what happens here? Well, I'll still be farting out more navel-gazing guff when I can and I'll be putting some thoughts together about Vanquish pretty soon. This won't be a usual review (cos that'll go up on Strategy Informer) but more likely concentrating on the Voltaire elements that the game does its best to hide. Yes, I can even try to find some soulful stuff in Vanquish - what madness. If I get round to it I may even try to spruce up this plain old blog to look something like a proper site. I hear animated gifs are all the rage these days...


Jeffrey Sandlin on Comic Jumper: