Saturday, 27 June 2009

Red Faction review

The open world nature of many games is a feature I usually struggle to enjoy. A story told in this environment invariably ends up fragmented into too many missions or diluted until it barely resembles a basic plot. These were my expectations of Red Faction Guerrilla but I was delighted to find that this basic conflict between oppressed settlers on Mars and their military overlords coherent and enjoyable.

I can't sit back and say that the story was amazing or left a poetic mark in my memory - it wasn't. But rather than overstretch its world, the game stayed within its own boundaries and showed me that even the simplest tales, when told well, are still meaningful and can give a sense of place. This is what marked Red Faction out to me more than any other recent game. Everything from the characters, the buildings and the general environments interacted and behaved together consistently.


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Monday, 22 June 2009

Prototype Review

Telling the story of Alex Mercer, Prototype caught my eye with its repulsive anti-hero and gratuitous violence. But instead of experiencing a gritty and fascinating super-hero tale that had something meaningful to say, the game concentrated on physical violence and an excess of super powers. I found brief moments of inspiration when absorbing other people’s memories and the faintest of emotional responses as well. But in all other areas Prototype lacked any true heart to carry off its story and left me feeling frustrated and bored by its approach.

As disturbing as it might sound, the chance to experience a darker character, with demons and issues that turn him into a brutal killer is something I can appreciate. Anti-heroes are usually far more interesting studies than a generic space marine, all-American hero. I personally find the most compelling stories are ones that follow an amoral character as he spirals down to humanity’s darkest depths.



Friday, 19 June 2009

Infamous Review

Telling a deep and involving story in a videogame can be a tough ask at the best of times. Telling one in an open-world environment is even harder and Infamous struggles to make use of its well-realised world and falls short of its potential. Although the core game mechanics and platforming aspects are fun with a lot of interesting and memorable moments, I never felt sympathy for any of the characters or found them believable.

This isn’t to say I found Infamous dull or didn’t enjoy it. From the very moment the game starts with a huge explosion in Empire City, it shows some impressive visual set-pieces. The nature of starting the game in a crater of your own making, with strange electrical powers and a devastated city at your feet is dramatic and enticing. I’ve always wanted a superhero genesis game with this amount of content and polish. Having a new character free from any graphic novel lore or canonical restrictions was refreshing and gave me hope that it would have a storyline to match.

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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Final Fantasy 7 - First impressions


Final Fantasy 7 is one of the most revered and beloved of role playing games to have ever been made. Regarded as a genre-defining work I’ve seen it regularly quoted as the game that brought real emotion into the medium. It's also a game I've never played.

Of course, thanks to the internet I already know the major factor that brought the game it famous reputation. The death of Aeris at the time must have been such a seismic event in the videogame space for it to still be talked about and discussed today.

Despite the knowledge of this major plot spoiler I've always wanted to play through the game and see how moving or affecting that moment is. Games have come a long way since it was released back on the original Playstation - at least in terms of visuals. Whether or not its impact over time has lessened or the story has been surpassed by more modern efforts remains for me to see. I really hope the plot and characters still resonate in 2009 as they did in 1997.

As expected the graphics are very dated and it’s hard to imagine this game being the revolutionary step forward it actually was. It was the first 3D game of the Final Fantasy series and playing it on a HD television did a great job of showing all its flaws off in gory detail. But I’ve had more joy with the PSP version despite the awkward controls.

The smaller screen sharpens everything up and it’s amazing what a little time can do to the mind with these older games. After a few hours I soon started to forget about the visuals completely and began to get wrapped up in the world and its characters. Instead of relying on the screen to convey high definition images my imagination took over. Thanks to this I ended up having the experience of the game inside my head rather than it being fed through my critical eyes.

I don't usually enjoy the over-Americanised localisation that most JRPG's go through. There's something fundamentally wrong in my mind about having a load of street lingo sprinkled into a fantasy setting. However, where a lot of similar games would've been switched off by now, the industrialised setting and ghetto backdrop seem to suit this style of narrative really well.

What's struck me, even at this early stage, is how well-written the characters are. There are distinctive qualities to each of them and although they sometimes fall into RPG and ethic stereotypes, I can't help but be curious about their histories and motivations. The early part of the story is encouraging too – playing what is essentially a terrorist and planting bombs gives it a darker edge. But seeing an entire section of the slums crushed just to eliminate the AVALANCHE group Cloud is working actually made me consider Barrett’s motivations.

But I really wanted to focus on Aerith. With so much of the buzz about this game being centred on her and her death it was a strange feeling interacting with her. From the very moment Cloud meets her she's a likeable and strong character. She has her own mind and senses of humour that makes me wonder why female characters haven’t progressed past this point. Whether its sentimentality clouding my view or not, she seems one of the most believable and interesting female characters I've seen in a game.

Of course, knowing what happens to her gives every line of dialogue and every scene a certain sombreness and I'm left wondering how different the game would feel if I had played it originally. That’s something I’ll never get to experience but I’m playing in a state of trepidation as to how she eventually meets her end. It will sound incredible soppy but I’m cherishing every interaction and moment with her.




Friday, 12 June 2009

Fable II review

Having poured so many hours into the first Fable game I was finding it difficult to enjoy this sequel. Every aspect of the game appeared to merely iterate on the original and I struggled to see how it could be rated so highly. Only after changing my usual habit and playing as an evil character did the real magic of Fable 2 reveal itself to me. Having such a different perspective really showed me what effect my decisions had on the world of Albion. Although it wasn't perfect I couldn't help but fall back in love with Lionhead's fantastic and funny fantasy world.

When it comes to videogames with moral choices I always take the good and heroic option. For some odd reason I feel there's something illicit or dangerous about going over to the dark side. But I found that playing as a good hero in this game seemed very boring. Part of that feeling comes from spending so many hours in the first game doing exactly the same types of quest.

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