Left 4 Dead 2 – Shambling Ramblings

I was lucky enough to win an early code for the Left 4 dead 2 demo from Console Monster, and the nice people even asked me to write a paragraph or two on my opinions, which as of yet has not been published. I got a little carried away and had to stop myself when I hit 700 words. You see, for a demo, there’s so much to talk about.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking more about the demo – especially things that I did not mention before – so instead of keeping them penned up I thought I’d bore you lot with them. I’ll warn you now that these are just my opinions and it may become a bit of a rant. I want to open these topics up for discussion and see if we can get some alternate viewpoints

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Atmosphere

Remember the first time you booted up Left 4 Dead? I do. I downloaded the demo over night and jumped on to grab a few games in the morning. Being the big wuss that I am, I waited for some friends to come online as I was too scared to play it on my own. I remember my first game, it was the subway level of the No Mercy campaign and I believe it was with Hi-Scores very own, Mr Daniel Lipscombe a.k.a strybe.

My hands were sweaty, I was close to smashing the pad as I hammered RT; spraying my Uzi through Bill’s buttocks, Laying out Louie and maybe, just maybe, killing a zombie. I shot Strybe, and our friend’s, more than I shot the Zombies. The reason I shot the hell out of my friends? Because I was scared half to death. Creeping around corners in the dark to be greeted with a horde of undead was not my picnic (then at least).

You see, a friend pointed out to me, although he loves the demo, it seems to lack the atmosphere that the original captured. I kind of agree with him, the sunlight is great but it does take away the fear of the shadows and what might be lurking in them. But, on the flip side, you cant hide in the shadows any more. I felt completely open, every where you turn you can see the zombies meandering about, massing up for a charge. Valve will have some darkened creepy levels tucked away but what the demo lacked in atmosphere, it made up for in adrenaline; the new events, sunlight and wide open spaces all added up to give me, and maybe you, a new heart pounding experience.

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Versus

I am a huge fan of the originals versus mode, I’ve probably played more of it than the actual campaign mode. It’s such a different affair from your standard multiplayer FPS, requiring teamwork and co-ordination. On around my fourth play through of the demo I could not help myself from looking around at the level from a versus perspective. The major thing I noticed was the balconies along the tight streets. With no ground access these are definitely smoker perches. The daylight will add an interesting perspective as your smoker will be a lot easier to spot. Teamwork is going to be key, splitting up the survivors might be even more important in the sequel than it was in the original.

Cue the new special infected: the Spitter, Charger and Jockey. Having these new “weapons” at your disposal is going to change Versus for good. It feels like Valve have created them (almost) purely for Versus as their main purpose is splitting up and isolating the survivors, the afore-mentioned key to Versus. The Spitter can force the survivors out of the hiding spots, the Charger can pick one player up and smash him out of the group and most importantly the Jockey, who if used correctly (and with support) could be the most fun. His possibilities seem endless, whether your running survivors into ambushes, off buildings, into fire, into boomers, he will always cause chaos and disorientate the group.

The last, and most hotly debated item, is the melee weapons. How will these factor into Versus? I honestly can’t say. I trust Valve won’t have made them too powerful against infected players but who knows. If you play together and use teamwork then you should be able to deal with any situation, even chainsaw wielding humans. The more melee weapons, the less guns to shoot you.

I did warn you it was going to be a rant, but I hope some of these thoughts made sense. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on this game. Please post your own thoughts, opinions, disagreements, whatever you want to call them and I’ll reply to them all.

Score Tissue Page 18: Marvelous

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There are times when it is easy being a rabid Marvel comics fan-boy.
This isn’t one of those times.

Yes, believe it or not, I didn’t create Franken-Castle just for the punchline for this strip. A billion dollar corporation actually believes that this is a good direction for what should be Marvel’s grimiest and most realistic comic book.

But since most of the corporation’s profits come from movie adaptations, (an area the Punisher hasn’t had much success with, despite repeated efforts.) they probably thought “What the heck, let’s go nuts.”

Risen (PC) Review

Two things that are key to my enjoyment of an RPG are an immersive world and a character that I care about. With Risen, Piranha Bytes almost had me. Almost.

When you first wash up on the island it seems like your standard RPG fair. But that is where you’re wrong, Risen is a very peculiar beast. In some areas it excels but in other important areas, it has faults. Your struck by Risen’s odd yet well executed tendencies very early on. You have to find food for your damsel in distress, to do so you have to take the meat off a slain monster. When you have the raw meat you have to find an open fire and a frying pan.

This is one of the things I like about Risen – besides the slow, boring cooking animation – the attention to detail. I loved the fact that as your hunting skill develops you can de-tusk boars and clip birds wings. I can easily lose myself doing these non-story based tasks, even collecting herbs for potions, making scrolls and even finding ingredients to make recipes. It’s just really good fun. But doing these little personal errands means braving the outside world and in Risen and it’s not a pretty place.

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It is pretty in a visual sense, with lots of scenic views and lush forests, but the characters sadly don’t fare as well. You will see the same face over and over, although not so bad at first you eventually lose any connection with the NPC’s. You can talk to one really interesting, compelling character, then turn the corner and there he is again, but it’s just his face (it’s like some twisted island of clones). At least your character looks different, maybe he will be interesting and charismatic, but then he speaks. Dull, charmless, badly acted voice over can ruin a game but gladly in Risen it does not as the dialogue in the entire game is pretty much the same. A few characters are well narrated but these are few and far between. I found myself reading the subtitles and skipping the audio of the conversations which is criminal in an RPG but I had to do it.

There is a good story hidden away under the clunky dialogue. The island is littered with monsters, spewed forth from strange temples that have burst from the land. White Robes of the Inquisition guard these temples and if you don’t want to join them then trust me when I say it’s best to stay far, far away from them. The only other option is joining Don Esteban and his bandits. By joining a faction you get to pursue that side of the story and gain their respect. You don’t have to join a faction right away, instead you can pick and choose your way through the quests, playing each side against each other and getting the best out of each situation.

A lot of the quests are relatively open-ended as you can use whatever skill set is at your disposal to work it out. Are you a pesky little thief? Then pickpocket the items and sell them to the highest bidder. Are you a crafty business man? Then buy the items and make a profit. Or do you just like to beat people up? Then beat it out of them. You dont have to kill people in Risen, you just whack them around a bit then they fall over and eventually get up. It’s a good touch as you can really be a ruffian and not a murderer.

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I tried to stay away from the fighting option as I prefered the more subtle approach of paying people off and then robbing them. Although I love this option it was not one of choice, but more of necessity, as I found myself getting beat up a little too much. The combat in Risen is quite a simple affair – left click to swing your weapon, right to block, dodge by double tapping the movement key –  but somehow I just could not grasp it. Even at the later levels I still ended up spamming the attack button and hoping my health would last out. I’m usually fine against one enemy but against multiple opponents I often find it a bit clunky. They swing around behind you and you have to quite heavily flick through the slight auto aim to target the character you want to block. A few of my key fights I won by managing to glitch the enemy up against a wall then beating them to death.

Monsters are even worse as they are (although impressive creations) really tough to kill. As a low-level character I could not even take down a couple of giant spinerats.  I found myself running through open areas of country with a tail of wolves and giant moths just hoping I’d either run into some help, or they would get bored and leave me be. The one good thing is that the enemies don’t re-spawn, so over time you can empty an area. Normally no re-spawning is a bad thing but there’s so many monsters in Risen that it’s a saving grace. If they re-spawned then I doubt I would have made it past the first few levels. It’s such an unforgiving game to new players, but I kind of like it. It’s nice to struggle at times but at others it made me just turn it off.

Maybe using magic would be easier but I’ve not had time to start a mage yet. One thing that amused me about being a mage is that they’re alcoholics. Seriously. Drinking alcoholic beverages increases your mana bar and, unlike other games, does not have any negative effects. Sounds like the perfect world for drunks. Even if you’re not a wasted wizard you can still use magic scrolls and boy does Risen have some crackers – telekinesiss, healing, levitation and snail metamorphosis. Yes, in Risen you can transform into a snail. It’s actually a very handy spell as you can sneak past guards and through small doorways. Using the spells are key to accessing secret areas and bypassing traps.

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Levelling up makes combat a lot easier and once again, Risen does it in its own strange way. You gain experience the standard way by killing enemies, completing quests and eating the occasional plant. When you’ve levelled up you can seek out a trainer to train you in your ability of choice. You also need to have a fair amount of gold coins to cover the training expenses. I like the fact that you can choose the skills you want but it has its faults. You have to buy the sneak skill which is basically paying for the ability to crouch. This seems a little senseless but maybe I’m just a fan of the Oblivion style of levelling; the more you use a weapon or trait then the more it upgrades. The upgrades are good but I found myself not having enough gold, or not knowing what to spend it on; I want to learn the parry skill yet I also want to be able to lock pick. I ended up with a character who was a jack of all trades but a master of none. It may have been my fault but it feels like you have to go down this route as you can’t get by without a foundation in all the skill sets. Maybe on my next play through I’ll concentrate on one ability and see if I can have more of a stress free time.

As you can tell, my thoughts on Risen are quite varied; there are things I loved yet things I disliked. It was a journey of frustration filled with pockets of fun. As frustrating as it was, it created a refreshing environment, making the world feel real. The creatures were tough from the off set and unlike most RPG’s you really felt out of your depth. The main character, although boring, did feel like an untrained foreigner washed up in a strange land with no one to connect with, no one to befriend. The game successfully conveyed the feeling of unease and isolation which is probably the most impressive thing Piranha Bytes have managed to do.

So, If you’re a fan of RPG’s then go out and give this game a shot. I cant promise you will love it – I’m still not 100% sure if I did – but it’s an interesting game that really deserves to be played. The faults are out weighed by an impressive world, interesting depth and a refreshing take on the fantasy RPG genre.

Hi-Score – Captavating World, Impressive Range of Skills, Unique Creatures, Realistic Enviroment

Lo-Score – Voice Acting, High Difficulty, Poor Characters, Random Bugs

Score – 7/10

Top Ten Cinematic Scenes….With A Twist

Well, it’s that time again. Here we are, ten writers, ten opinions and ten great games. If you haven’t been with us for the last two editions of Top Ten with a twist, for shame. But you’re here now and we’ll let you off. The premise is simple, many gaming sites across the internet regularly publish Top Tens, usually written by one person. We have changed things up a bit at Hi-Score and we regularly ask many writers to get together, give them a subject (try to avoid doubles) and bring you ten opinions from ten great people. They are in no particular order, we just write to entertain.

This month we have chosen Top Ten Cinematic scenes, so allow our writer friends to tell you a story. Let them tell you why they love the scenes they’ve chosen and why you should love them too. As usual we have some mainstream games and some more obscure titles and Bioshock delivers two favourite scenes, so once again the power of Rapture is mesmerising. So, let me hand you over to this editions ten writers; Adam Standing, Jared Newman, John Cranston, Lewis Denby, Jennifer Allen, Christos Reid, Brad Gallaway, Thomas Worthington, Steve Wright and Dillon Andrews.

Adam Standing – BioShock

Writer for Game People –Soulful Gamer

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No-one cut a more imposing figure in the game of Bioshock than its founder, Andrew Ryan. From the moment you set foot onto the lighthouse that takes you down into Rapture he’s there, his proud statue declaring, ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man.’ it might as well of said ‘Only Andrew Ryan’. His confident, arrogant tone follows you every step of the way as you descend into his underwater utopia, ever patronising, always accusing and yet oddly charismatic. It’s impossible not to be swept up in every dramatic speech that he delivers. What would his next sneering remark be? What threat would he dare to unleash as I tried to unravel the mystery of Rapture and the vision of perfection he so desperately clung to?

All this culminated into an epic meeting with the man – the perfect denouement of the previous hour’s tension and drama wrapped into a brief minute of in-game cinematic. What made this so impressive was how well it stayed within the confines of the world. There was no 3rd-person highly-rendered cut-scene to take you out of the moment, no dramatic camera angles or swelling music, just the same view you’ve been used to but with one critical aspect changed. For those brief moments when Ryan opens his office door, control is suddenly taken away from you. But he demonstrates that although you’ve had free movement in the past you’ve been nothing more than a pawn in a power struggle, going from objective to objective under Atlas’ ‘guidance’, and fulfilling the role of a mindless assassin.
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So when he tells you to run, and then to stop and face him, all by using the ‘would you kindly’ phrase, it suddenly threw the last few hours of gameplay back in my face. The curtain was pulled back and I realised how utterly I’d been fooled by my own assumptions.  It was this stroke of genius that made me squirm as Ryan handed me his golf club. Although my aim all along had been to kill him, I was suddenly disgusted with the thought of carrying it out.

‘A man chooses, a slave obeys.’

Being forced to watch as I beat Ryan to death against my will was a shocking moment. I have never felt so useless within a game before and the emotional weight of this moment made it the most powerful in-game cinematic I’ve experienced.

And just as Andrew Ryan loomed large over the entire city of Rapture like a steely father, this scene eclipsed the rest of the game. But for me Bioshock was always about this moment; a meeting that revealed so much about the game and left me in awe.

Jared Newman – No More Heroes

Writer at Gamercrave – Gamercrave

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Amped up and showered in blood, Travis Touchdown points his beam katana at the last of three suit-clad henchmen, who is now crying in fear, arms raised in surrender. Travis demands: “Where’s this Heavy Metal dude?” And when the henchman can only manage a frightened whimper, Travis wields his katana and cuts through the baloney that so many other video game cutscenes put on display.

Normally, I don’t envy the makers of cutscenes. Somehow, they have to weave a thread of humanity into characters who are mostly preoccupied with killing everything that moves. This is especially true when the opponents are human, for instance in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. As Penny Arcade so eloquently put it, Nathan Drake suffers from “his unique sociopathy, the one which allows him to crack wise between genocides.”

But while Uncharted 2, Grand Theft Auto IV and so many others simply hope you won’t notice the glaring discrepancy between the emotional character in the cutscene and the one who’s piling up dead bodies by the hundred, No More Heroes balances the scales. Travis Touchdown isn’t a sociopath, he’s just not human. He’s a construct, a vessel that delivers the player to the game.

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Accordingly, Travis acts more like a gamer than a character. The phrase “this Death Metal dude,” and earlier in the cutscene, his referral to Sylvia Christel as “an agent of this whatchamacallit association” illustrates how a player can disregard the finer details of a game’s story and still have a good time. No More heroes is different because it forgets the details intentionally. I won’t argue that video games don’t need narrative, but if you can’t throw away a game’s plot and still enjoy the remainder, it’s probably not worth playing.

Think I’m blowing hot air? Consider also the many instances, in the game’s first cutscene and beyond, where Travis takes a sledgehammer to the fourth wall. “I know a lot of gamers out there don’t much patience, at least that’s what Bishop the dude at the video store said,” he remarks before speaking of “the deathmatch bar” and compelling the player to join him and “just press the A button.” Again, he’s  not so much a hero as he is one of us.

All this brings us back to that brutal moment where Travis arrives on the scene of his next assassination. I really expected Travis to let that last henchmen go, because that’s what happens in a cutscene where the protagonist’s humanity is under a microscope. Instead, Travis splits the man along the torso, kicks open a door and yells, “It’s game time!”

At that point, I was thinking the same thing.

John Cranston – Lost Odyssey

Blogger – Blog

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As a gamer of over twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of cinematics, from the explosive action of futuristic battlefields in Dawn of War, to the cheesetastic Resident Evil with its hammy dialogue and terrible acting. Today’s technology means cinematics can now be infused with almost life-like reality.

So, when I settled down to play Mistwalkers second game, Lost Odyssey, I almost didn’t know what to think, feel or believe when introduced to the first of their “Thousand Years of Dreams” sequences. It was unlike anything I’ve come across before and has become my most important cinematic moment in gaming.

Let me add some context. Lost Odyssey is a Japanese RPG by Hironobu Sakaguchi, in which you play as Kaim Argonar, an immortal mercenary travelling the world in search of a purpose. After meeting other immortals and questing with them it becomes clear that they are all suffering from the same problem – they are missing portions of their memory.

As you venture out onto various missions there are inevitable cut scenes dealing with the exposition of the situation at hand. However, whilst exploring towns and villages, Kaim and the other immortals can sometimes find an item or overhear a fragment of conversation which will trigger one of their lost memories.

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These memories are presented in the form of an interactive short story, with transitional animation, animated backgrounds and expressive music (by Nobuo Uematsu) that reflect the tone of each section of text. You can read through these stories at your own pace, and at first they seem bafflingly obscure. I first thought to myself “why is this game making me read?”

But despite this initial objection, the first flashback was able to do something no game has ever done before – it made me cry.

“Hanna’s Departure” is the tale of a young girl, born with a degenerative illness. She is housebound at her parent’s inn and will not live to become a woman. Travellers that stay at the inn tell her tales of the world she will never experience, with any of her limited senses. Kaim is one of these travellers.

Having an immortal life and in his capacity of a mercenary, he has travelled far and wide, first hand experiencing the beauty of the world and the depths of human ugliness. You can’t help but warm to this aloof and initially bland character as he recalls his final trip to visit Hanna, and the story he tells her as she lies sleeping in her death bed.

To some it might seem like an overblown PowerPoint presentation, but I admire the way this game deals with real human emotions – the sadness of a loved one dying, the regret of a life not lived to its potential, the humility of your own actions and the loathing of the seedier side of the human condition. It truly struck a chord with me and I’m not ashamed to say I wept.

Lewis Denby – Pathologic

General Freelancer and Editor of Resolution Magazine – Resolution

screen_11I suspect this may be something of an oddity on this list, as it’s a cinematic that doesn’t actually appear in the game.

Remember the good old days when a game’s opening cinematic came before the menu screen?  That’s kind of the case here, except that there’s another, more relevant one at the start of the game proper.  This one, the one that plays as soon as you double-click your way into the application, is actually rather arbitrary, and has very little to do with the marvellous, philosophical and terrifically disturbing plot that emerges once you get really stuck into the broken but beautiful gem that is Pathologic.

But what’s so thoroughly excellent about this half-minute introduction is that… well, it serves as just that.  It’s not cluttered by exposition, and you won’t really miss anything should you choose to skip it.  What it does is cement a bleak atmosphere from the outset, while tapping into some of the aesthetic themes from which Pathologic cancerously grows throughout its turbulant duration.

A funeral procession ambles through the rain.  As the camera focuses, we see that the procession is made up entirely of children, suits and ties replaced with torn, tattered rags.  They carry no coffin.  Instead, it’s a ragdoll, equally torn and tattered.  Ragdolls become a significant element of Pathologic’s twisted approach, but that’s not relevant for now.

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The kids bury the doll.  They walk off.  The menu screen beckons.

What does it all mean?  Well, on the surface, not a lot.  But pretty soon we understand that Pathologic’s self-destructing village is home to an enormous orphanage, and that a terrible disease is sweeping the area, with hundreds of people dying every day.  The children, with no homes to go to and nothing else to do, are partaking in their own version of the terrible situation that the town’s adult population has no choice but to deal with.

It’s subtle, but brutal and tragic.  It is exemplary of the game as a whole – exactly what the best introductions should aim for.  Marvellous.

Jennifer Allen – Bioshock

Writer for many places – Blog

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I was a strange one back in August 2007. Bioshock’s demo had just been released and every gamer on the planet seemed to be excited about it, except for me. I’m desperately trying to remember why but I can’t come up with a good excuse other than it just seemed to have slipped my radar. Fortunately a friend ensured that I didn’t miss too much by loading up the demo in front of me. Within seconds I was hooked and knew that I had to buy this game no matter what.

The opening cut scene really wasn’t very long at only a couple of minutes long, but it gave away just enough to make me very intrigued. Starting out on a plane in 1960 going across the Atlantic Ocean, you see the protagonist looking at photos of his family and then a blue package with a gift tag stating ‘Would you kindly not open until…’. Something that seems very innocuous at the time but is instead extremely sinister as events unfold. The next second the plane plummets out of the sky and into the Atlantic Ocean. Miraculously you survive and you come up from the water to see fire everywhere and the plane’s tail sink further into the murky water. At the time I was surprised to see how quickly the game had gone from pure cut scene to being able to control the action and swim to safety. It was a great example of just how hooked I was to the action unfolding before my eyes, I’d nearly forgotten it was a game. The first person perspective helped hugely, I wasn’t watching a man on a plane, I was the man on the plane. It all made things feel so much more personal and I had to see what would happen next, which is exactly what an opening cut scene should do: hook you and never let go.

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I was a little worried that it wouldn’t hold up having not returned to Bioshock in a long while. But as soon as I loaded up the sequence again on my 360, I was hooked once more and I’m strongly contemplating experiencing the game again. It is amazing how one small cut scene can change your view of a game so hugely from total disinterest to a near addicted urge to find a copy. I dare anyone reading this who somehow hasn’t played Bioshock yet (shame on you if so) to view the opening scene and not have a desire to play longer. It might be brief but it does everything required of a good opening. It gives you reason to keep playing by tantalising your curiosity.

Christos Reid – Grim Fandango

Freelancer and wordsmith – Blog

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Have you ever thought about what it’s like to die?

In fact, have you ever thought about what it’s like after you die?

Grim Fandango, as a concept, is pretty dark. You’re essentially a travel agent for the souls of the dead, stationed in the afterlife working endlessly to pay off some horrible misdeed you committed whilst in the land of the living. Your job sucks, your customers hate you, and you’ve got no friends, because, well, everyone hates you, and you’re dead.

This is life for Manny Cavalera, the poor schmuck who finally wrangles himself a great client, fluffs the job, and ends up making a four-year pilgrimage across the land of the dead to save the person whose case he mishandled.

The cutscene takes place near the end of the game, so it’s quite a controversial choice; it’s not completely spoiler free, if you count bad people going to Hell as a spoiler. Manny begs the gatekeeper to stop a train granting criminals access to Heaven, but is told to wait, as it is revealed that the train will pass its own judgement on whether or not its passengers deserve to enter.

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The train gleams in the winter sunlight, frosted windows giving way to the sight of one of the game’s many antagonists before the camera pulls back to give us an idea of how few moments there are left before judgement is passed by the wheeled beast. Suddenly, the train glows red, and the engine turns into a leering daemon, before leaping from the tracks into a fiery pit that opens up to let it through.

It’s hard to describe, simply because so much happens in the space of ten seconds. But it’s an amazing cutscene because it’s a relief for the player whilst still being a terrifying experience if you’re willing to immerse yourself within the collective consciousness of the criminals on the train. As the train soars into the depths of Hell, frantic faces and hands are pushed against the windows, decrying their sins as they are taken, mere yards from the paradise they stole from others.

Tim Schafer has something of a gift, when it comes to dialogue, but for once, it’s not really necessary. Every aspect of this half-minute of cinematic tension is purely visual, a rare treat after three years of guiding Manny through the various pitfalls and misadventures of the afterlife. It begs the question: are those who are morally tainted – but keep quiet about it – really safe from judgement? Or are the fates saving their ultimate retribution against those who would disadvantage others to further themselves for the last possible moment?

In a game all about morality being a very grey area, it’s reassuring to witness such a strong, visual statement indicating that the difference between the two isn’t so hard to perceive after all.

Well, that and the idea of daemon train is completely fucking awesome.

Brad Gallaway – Shenmue 2

Writer and Editor at Gamecritic.com – Blog

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I have to admit that I cheated a bit when I selected a series of scenes from the end of Yu Suzuki’s masterwork, Shenmue II. The images that sprung to mind hearing of the ‘Twist’ topic are technically gameplay, yet are so calm and expository that I think it’s entirely fair to say that they’re closer to being cinematics than anything else.

For those not familiar with the Shenmue series, it tells the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young man whose father was murdered before his eyes. Over the course of two games, Ryo struggles to unravel the events that drove the killing, and in doing so, is led on a journey of personal discovery and maturation into adulthood. Although Shenmue is frequently misunderstood by players who wanted it to be something it wasn’t, some of its most powerful moments are not of action, but of stillness; of introspection and of being part of a larger whole.

The perfect example? After an exhilarating end-boss conflict, most players (including myself) expected to see credits roll and have the adventure come to a close. However, Suzuki surprised everyone by slamming on the brakes and taking Ryo to a remote rural area where he must walk a considerable distance to a village deep in the mountains. There are no shortcuts, no passing cars to commandeer, and no warp areas to expedite the player from point A to point B. There is no way to ‘hurry up and get to the good part’. Simply being there is the good part.

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Much like anyone would be wont to do after significant events in real life, Ryo counts his footsteps by contemplating things that have occurred along the way; where he’s been, and where he’s going. What it all means.

After searching, struggling, and enduring the violence necessary to achieve Ryo’s goals of bringing peace to his father, I felt as though this simple, idyllic trek through verdant fields and across bubbling streams was the best possible reward, both for Ryo and myself– slowing the pace down and featuring an entirely different, almost meditative experience for the player to participate in was Suzuki’s way of addressing that the character he created is multifaceted, just as we are in life, and deeper than the simple series of actions and reactions games require players to perform.

The richness on display is comprised of no more than discussions with a girl who acts as his guide. There’s no fighting or conflict. No struggle, save perhaps an internal one. Really, these scenes are never anything more than two people communicating and discussing life, but in them, Shenmue II provides more in a moment contemplating the intrinsic beauty of flowers than most games do with hours of bleeding-edge CG and top-dollar voice acting.

Thomas Worthington – Majoras Mask

Nintendo Editor – That Gaming Site

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As with any list or top 10, when it comes to the Zelda series, the words ‘Ocarina of Time’ are never far behind. In contrast, Majora’s Mask is the under-appreciated younger brother of Link’s Nintendo 64 debut. Starved of the respect it’s deserving of, I couldn’t refuse it a mention here.

Allow me to set the mood for you by briefly re-telling the events leading up to this classic introduction. Travelling back and forth through time to defeat Gannondorf, save the princess and Hyrule, accepting his destiny as Hero of Time, the events that transpired in Ocarina of Time might have been a little too much for young Link to deal with.

Stepping out of the lime light and into the foggy depths of the Lost Woods, we find our hero atop his trusty steed Epona strolling cautiously in search of an old friend. From a nearby tree, two fairies are watching Link and plotting away. It isn’t long until the mischievous duo startle Epona knocking Link to the ground and into unconsciousness.

In the distance, the outline of a mask and shadow of its owner appears revealing the ringmaster in this master plan, the Skull Kid. It’s here we’re introduced to the strange but hilarious mannerisms of the antagonist. He’s a change of pace from the traditional Gerudo tyrant, Gannondorf. He shuffles towards his prey, prying the Ocarina of Time from Links’ pockets, giggling at the sounds it makes and playfully hiding it behind his back when our hero awakes to find this obscure scene.

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Scoring a quick getaway by stealing Link’s horse, our hero chases his foe through the forest and into a dark cave not seeing the ledge and falling into a dark abyss. Landing in a dimly-lit cave, the Skull Kid is basking in the spot light. Epona is nowhere to be seen. The Skull Kid tells Link that his horse was useless so he disposed of it from him. The Skull Kid now bemused by Links anger decides to knock him down a peg.

Sending Link to a nightmarish world, surrounded by Deku Scrubs, Link runs for his life trying to shake off the echoing sound of rustling. The horror isn’t over for Link however, as he awakes to discover the Skull Kid has transformed him into a Deku Scrub. Peering at Link’s new look, the Skull Kid falls back laughing uncontrollably.

No longer in the world that held him up as the hero of time, reduced to a mere Deku scrub, no horse, no Ocarina and with a foe for a companion, Majora’s Mask is an introduction that tears its hero down to rags. It’s a storytelling device used over and over by Nintendo, (for reference see the opening of every Metroid Prime game) but Majora’s Mask did it with such style and emotion that falling from hero to zero never felt so brutal. It paints a picture of how dark, twisted and at times haunting Link’s adventure is going to be.

Steve Wright – Final Fantasy 7 (There had to be one)

Budding writer – Hi-Score

finalfantasyviicast

Let’s rewind back to 1997. I was a 12-year-old lad who, when not playing footy in the rain, would waste many an afternoon on my Playstation. I had played and loved many games, but no game had affected me as much as Final Fantasy VII did. I remember playing FFVII through summer and winter, friends pleading me to play football, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get my hands on that black Chocobo.

As all gamers know (who has not played this? Seriously) FFVII is filled with majestic moments and great cut scenes – Sephiroth walking through the flames, explosion over sector 7, oh, and that girl dying – but the one memory that stands out as clear as day is the escape from the Shinra headquarters.

After rescuing Red XIII and escaping Sephiroth, Cloud and his band of misfits have to escape. Cue what Christos Reid called “Cloud’s most badass moment in the FFVII universe”. While the rest of the team mount into a strange-looking blue pickup truck, Cloud comes flying down the steps in a rather awesome looking motorbike. They smash through the window and (in a Michael Bay fashion) speed onto the freeway to fight off the pursuing enemies.

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Why do I love this scene so much? I think Christos could have been spot on in his quote. For a hero, Cloud was, well, a bit of an emo. Up until this point Barrat was the man, he had more machismo in his left elbow. Like an average 12-year-old boy I was drawn to heroic muscle-bound men…this is sounding a little wrong. What I’m trying to say is there was not much to inspire you about Cloud; he had a big Sword, yes, but as for sheer badassness (sorry), he was solely lacking. That was until he came thrashing down those steps in that bike, stopping only to strut heroically. Now he is a hero, now he is cool, now he can take down Sephiroth.

Before writing this piece I went back and watched this scene again. What was once jaw dropping, friend impressing visuals is now very underwhelming. It’s a great testament to how far gaming has come in terms of graphics, but also how many moments in our gaming careers will never be forgotten, no matter how rough around the edges they are.

The cut scene has taken a bit of flack in recent years but I say keep it. Cut scenes should be used to convey something that can’t be shown in gameplay: epic explosion filled endings, character deaths, character romance etc. Simple. When you find yourself trying to skip a cut scene by pressing every button on the pad like an uneducated Tekken player then it’s not needed. Developers need to look back to games like FFVII, where they were used to perfection, and stop giving cut scenes a bad name.

Dillon Andrews – Dungeon Keeper

Co Editor of Ve3tro.com – Ve3tro

Dungeon_Keeper

What makes a cinematic great? What is it that causes a cinematic to standout from the rest and stick with us like childhood memories so that when asked “what is the greatest cinematic ever?” we can reply with a grin and a re-telling of our favourite video game cutscene. For me (a cinematic enthusiast), I get pleasure from anything containing comedy, good graphics, excellent writing, and of course nostalgia.

Like wine, good cinematics age gracefully and can be enjoyed after many years have passed. Let’s select a 12 year old gem, taking us back to June 26^th , 1997 for my selection; Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper. What scene sticks out the most? Well I can’t say any in particular as all are relatively short and all excellent in production, so I’m going to break the rules of this top 10 list and expand my selection of ‘favourite’ to ‘favourites’ and select them all. However, to confine and limit myself from an endless ramble, I will simply choose the one that started them all, the Dungeon Keeper Introduction.

Running a quick breakdown, you can see why I look to this game with such high regard. Allow me to take your hand and walk you through the beginning 2 minutes of Dungeon Keeper.
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A knight gallops towards the castle gate with torch in hand and a burning desire for conquest in his heart. Wind gusts shake a corpse silhouette in front of the moon as the illustrious Bullfrog sign swings from the local tavern. Fighting the temptation for a brew, the knight marches onward through a forest littered with rodents and decaying bodies.

Finally the knight reaches his destination and kicks in the door, startling a little imp who scampers past troll guards who prepare for the confrontation and epic battle. The knight hastily slays the patrol (whose backup are indulging in a game of cards), and then heads towards the core of the building—the dungeon.

Fortunately the big badass, Horny—the Horned Reaper sneaks in and beheads the crusading hero, ushering in a new level of confidence to the evil minions in the Dungeon Keeper universe… and of course riling up me, the player.

Tell me how that doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, your inner self sinisterly rubbing your hands together as you let out a unruly ‘Mua ha ha ha’!

Note from Editor – Well there we are, that’s all ten entries for this month. I’m sure you’ll agree that there were some great choices in there. I hope you join us next time around, where we’ll have more great writers tackle their favourite moments in videogames. Follow everyone on twitter (Except Christos, he’s not on Twitter yet and may never be) and let us know what you thought of this edition, do you agree? Disagree? Or have your own choice to put forward? Tell us on Twitter or in the comments here.

Eurogamer Expo: best of the rest

Naturally, at a gaming exhibition, some of the hands-on time doesn’t justify a lengthy piece or in-depth analysis.  With that in mind, check out my summary in my “Best of the Rest” picks:

Most pleasant surprise: Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet was something of a bland proposition.  I didn’t like the first, and thought the endless snow-bound combat was as dull as wading through treacle.  Imagine my chagrin, then, when Lost Planet 2 crushed those unfavourable impressions.   The visuals were crisp and pleasing, the combat smooth and unfussy, with the use of grappling hooks adding a fun twist to truly three-dimensional combat.  On the strength of this demo alone, I am very tempted to pick it up on release.

Lost Planet 2 looks very promising

Most bonkers gameplay: Bayonetta

Initial appearances might suggest Bayonetta is little more than a Devil May Cry clone.  However, with Japanese magazine Famitsu scoring it a maximum 40/40, it begs closer inspection.  Despite the protagonist being a gravity-defying incarnation of the most delusional fantasist, the boring stereotype serves up lashings of fun and unexpected combat.  Massive thigh-high leather boots will descend to squash celestial hordes, hellish dragons will appear to devour gargantuan opponents, and epic boss fights will quite literally land you in unexpected places.  In my limited time with Bayonetta, I barely scratched the surface of the combat, but even my brief stint hinted at a bafflingly diverse array of special moves and intricate combos.  Best of all, it was nonsensical fun.  Definitely one to watch.

One game to rule them all: God of War 3

God of War is all about spectacle, and oh my, what a spectacle it is.  I stood looking on in awe, exclaimed out loud at several points, and thoroughly enjoyed the seamless flow from one superb scene to the next.  Admittedly, the combat hasn’t taken any noticeable leaps, but who cares?  When a game flows with such seamless polish as this, and every part throws out an unexpected wonder, you will forgive a lot.  Not that you’ll need to – it looks finished already.  And as for the fixed camera…  What camera?  I didn’t even notice it or think about it until afterwards, that’s how perfect it was.

Most traditional sequel everyone wants to see: Battlefield: Bad Company 2

A brief hands-on with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 left me impressed.  There’s not much to say other than that it seems to be every bit the refinement current BF:BC players want to see.  Particle effects look great, sound is dynamic and intense, gameplay runs smoothly, and there were no noticeable hiccups in all of what was going on.  Graphically, it’s noticeably a step on, but best of all, DICE seems to have moved on with the Frostbite engine destructibility.  My session was brief, but I will say that either destruction is now totally dynamic, or that the destruction “cut away” templates from the first are more varied and cunningly disguised.  Fans can rest assured that the entire package looks very promising.

Heavy Rain has stunningly realised characters

Most hyped let-down: Heavy Rain

It’s perhaps unfair to say that Heavy Rain was a let-down, exactly, but I certainly left with mixed feelings.  The story looks cinematic and gripping enough, but I didn’t witness the endless variations of each promised scene.  In the now-famous shop scene, detective Scott Shelby has to stop a robbery in progress.  I certainly couldn’t seem to get myself shot or end the scenario in any way other than wrestling the would-be thief to the floor and knocking him unconscious, despite having several tries.  Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but the in-game “triggers” felt like little other than cleverly-disguised QTEs.  Regardless, though, the facial animations are superb: it sounds like an odd observation to make, but the eyes of characters in particular are brilliant.  The world-weary hangdog expression of Scott Shelby; the painfully damaged openness of shopkeeper Hassan: the essence of each character is perfectly and instantly relayed.

Eurogamer Expo: Aliens vs Predator

Unbalanced.  That’s the main feeling I got walking away from the AvP demo. 

The marine/alien/predator triangle really throws up some interesting possibilities.  Luckily for me, then, there was a hands-on multiplayer demo at the EG Expo.  Unfortunately, I left feeling slightly disappointed.

Game over, man!

In fairness to Rebellion, there remain a lot of reasons to be optimistic that this can become a stand-out title – but it needs a lot of work before its release.  Odd graphical glitches were frequent in what I can only hope is an early build: marines and predators would occasionally “slide” across the floor, animation totally absent.  There was alarming lag, too; I had assumed I was playing a LAN game, and – if so – then this is an ominous portent for the online side.

Graphically, it was solid but unremarkable.  It also suffered from the single issue that plagued Arkham Asylum: when playing as the Predator, you will want to use thermal vision all the time.  This time, however, it does at least serve to underscore the continuity of the inspiring fiction.

The biggest gameplay issue, though, was balance.  The marine is woefully underpowered.  S/he has a motion sensor in a fitting nod to the films, but it is exactly that: a motion sensor.  As aliens and predators alike can lurk in the shadows to good effect, it is somewhat irksome that your one way of redressing the balance is undone by the inclusion of one-button stealth kills.  Aliens and predators can pounce on unsuspecting victims for an instant kill, and – although the animations are slow and can leave players exposed when used gratuitously – it still means there is a lot of hiding in shadow.  All too often, I would be engaged in a firefight or about to spring a trap of my own, when I would simply be picked off in such a manner and sent packing to the respawn screen.  In fact, it is entirely too easy to believe that unlucky or impatient players will see a lot of the floor while waiting to rejoin the fray.  Alas, I didn’t get to play as an alien, and potentially they offer some of the most unique gameplay elements – certainly, their gravity-defying locomotion opens a vast array of tactics.

The more positive aspects of AvP were perhaps slightly trickier to qualify.  For one thing, seeing aliens scuttle around the claustrophobic levels and disappear into the shadows was superbly atmospheric, and left you with interesting choices: do you risk rushing in for a kill, or abandon what might be a trap?  On one occasion, my marine chased an alien up a stairwell, firing blindly into the darkness.  As I emerged from the darkness on to a walkway, a shape flitted off to the left.  I jumped back, seeing the alien dangling into the darkness, ready to pounce if I’d continued my pursuit.  I can’t imagine a more authentic experience – that one moment perfectly encapsulated everything about the films.

Newt's down here?  Screw that

Despite the reservations I have, there is huge potential here.  If Rebellion can nail the balance and fix the technical issues by release, then this could be a competitive FPS that breathes tension into an often-stale genre, rewarding cunning gameplay far beyond most shooters.

Eurogamer Expo: Mass Effect 2

se·quel

n.
1. Something that follows; a continuation.
2. A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative continues that of a preexisting work.
3. A result or consequence.

Let’s take point three and examine what I mean.

Saren returns

 

With dismay, I recently revisited the first Mass Effect to find that – from a technical perspective – it has started to creak slightly with the passing of time.  It is to BioWare’s credit, then, that its impending sequel seamlessly transitions from one game to the next without needing to preen and strut self-consciously.  There are no flashy “look at me” histrionics, no radical overhauls or deviations from the core gameplay.

The changes are subtle – so subtle that, if you haven’t played the first recently, you probably won’t even notice them.  The much-vaunted combat improvements brought me right back into Mass Effect universe while instinctively feeling smoother than the first.  For those of you who may not know, you can now target specific body parts on enemies for distinct effects.  Headshots will see a spray of blood, and targeting a leg will allow you to stall enemy advances – this is critical for avoiding the flanking issues that smudged the first.  Combat also sees the introduction of the “health regeneration” feature of most modern shooters – no rooting around for medi-packs now.

The dialogue wheel remains perfectly preserved, while the graphics themselves are beautiful.  If you thought the first was joyously pretty, some of the sweeping vistas and facial animations seen in the demo were just breathtaking.

Look!  New characters

Of course, it’s always tough to work out exactly how such an RPG will develop and engage – particularly when it’s driven by an arc as strong as that in Mass Effect.  There are already tantalising glimpses shown here, though, and in every way this is a game spawned by its progenitor, as the dictionary above might suggest.  BioWare seems to have set about delivering careful, considered tweaks, having learnt from the few mistakes of the original.

The level of polish already on display was fantastic to see, and I would casually suggest that the release date of January 29th looks a certainty.  I’ll be first in line.