The Darkness II Review

Wow. I mean... wow. The Darkness II is actually good. And I mean really good. It isn’t going to go down in history as one of the all time classics but it goes well beyond basic adequacy. I’m actually genuinely shocked by this; I’ve found a modern first person shooter than I actually enjoy.

In my review of Duke Nukem Forever I said that I used to enjoy FPS games, but went off them when realism and multiplayer emphasis took over as the main driving points behind development. Couple this with the grey and brown crap that constitutes the art direction of most modern shooters and you have a recipe for a bland experience that I honestly couldn’t care less about.

The Darkness II does everything right. The art direction uses cell shading to create comic book style visuals which are genuinely stylized (as opposed to the normal use of the term stylized- I.E crap) while maintaining a pretty high base of technical quality too. The visuals fall apart a little when viewed up close, but not horrendously so. Cross hatching as shading also adds to the theme, as do some very nice general lighting and particle effects. The colour palette is bright and vibrant with striking solid masses of colour which play off very well against the black edge lines which are a product of cell shaded graphics.

The end result is a game that looks striking and memorable, as well as displaying excellent levels of polish.

The sound is catchy, visceral and intense. The musical score isn’t memorable, but it is functional and provides a solid background for the gameplay.

Speaking of which, the gameplay is excellent. The Darkness II has to be one of the most interesting shooters I’ve played in years. You start with your basic FPS mechanics and a three gun weapon limit. Wohoo! Weapon limits- because I’ve never complained about those before. Still, in the Darkness II there is a trade off for this arbitrary mechanic in that you can hold two one handed weapons and a single two handed weapon. You can mix and match the one handed guns so you can hold only one and use the iron sights on it, or hold two and lose the ability to aim. In return though, you gain the ability to turn anyone in front of you into a puddle of gore through concentrated fire. Reminds me a lot of Skyrim’s hand allocation system actually...

Trade off! Decision making! Variable play styles, all of which are valid! In a modern FPS single player mode no less!

It isn’t all rosey of course; the guns are the same generic set you get in every modern FPS but hey- at least you have a little choice with regard to how you use them.

Complementing your gunmetal are the Darkness arms- these babies are awesome. One of them is used for your melee attack and eating your enemy’s hearts- which is how you regain health. You do regenerate some over time, but simply hiding behind a wall won’t be enough to get back to full strength. Another modern trend that I hate bucked by this game!

The other arm is context sensitive. If an enemy is stunned you can pick them up and then execute them in a variety of grizzly ways for a number of different effects. One way gives you back more health than just eating their heart, another gives you some more ammo (which raises all sorts of icky questions), a third lets you create a shield and the final one recharges your powers.

You can also use it to grab other objects from a distance such as guns and ammo while you hide in cover, or other more... interesting objects, such as lengths of pipe or fan blades. These items can then be forcefully (and usually terminally) reintroduced to their owners.

Let me describe to you the moment where I fell in love with this game. I walked into a pool hall, totally unarmed bar the Darkness arms.

I knocked the first guy to the floor with one swipe, and then picked up the pool cue he was carrying before it hit the floor. This pool cue was then used to nail one of his mates to the wall (through his face), before he could get a shot off at me. I then grabbed his pistol with the Darkness arm, spun around and headshot a third guy who managed to get a hit in on me. By this time contestant one was staggering back to his feet, so I picked him up and threw him at a fourth guy who’d just burst into the room, killing him and stunning the newcomer- who was then picked up and executed by being held in one of the Darkness arms as the other one re-enacted the dining room scene from Alien on him.

This took place in about four or five seconds and was entirely unscripted.

What I’m trying to impart here is that the mechanics and level design of the Darkness II offers a huge range of options and possibilities that allow you to engage in the sort of awesome badassery that you normally only see in cinematic sequences. Call me crazy, but I find that sort of thing far more entertaining than just running around like a rat in maze trying to shoot someone in the head.

There’s also a levelling system (what game doesn’t have one these days?) which is perfectly executed. Kill enemies, get XP. The more interesting the death, the more XP given. Find a levelling up point; spend XP to unlock talents in one of the trees. Simple, effective and hugely entertaining.

The trees each have their own emphasis. One focuses on the use of guns, another on the darkness arms, another on powers and so forth. Each talent actually offers new ways to play and provides a genuine bonus that you can feel in gameplay. Not one of them is filler or a dud. Genius.

What really impressed me in the Darkness II though was the story. Now, it’s no epic. It’s not a subtle nuanced plot, but it is very well executed and extremely tightly directed. It’s a gangster story with a supernatural element- nothing more. It doesn’t try to be clever, but it takes the time to firmly establish motivations, build up the stakes and immerse the player in the world as well as the entrails of their enemies.

Most of the story is built up in dedicated exposition sequences which you play through (but you can skip most of them if you are so inclined). These are very well put together- long enough to get the point across without rushing, but short enough that they don’t leave you chomping at the bit for more action.

Enemies show very little variation, but the fights remain interesting thanks to varied environments and the game’s use of light as a weapon. When standing in bright light you lose your Darkness arms, the ability to regenerate health and most of your talents are nullified. You also lose the ability to see and hear clearly. Consequently taking out lights and avoiding windows becomes a key part of your combat tactics. And that’s the key- it’s a part of your tactics. The inclusion of the light mechanic never feels artificial or forced; it’s simply another obstacle which rolls seamlessly into your considerations as you get better at the game.

It’s also a nice touch that later in the game you get enemies using flares, as well as giant high powered lights as weapons against you. Enemies attempting to actually exploit a weakness!? The horror! The AI on the light carrying goons is also pretty good- they stay out of your way wherever they can, and position themselves to try and box you in so that their mates can surround you.

Finally the acting is superb. Every actor and actress in this game evidently gave the role their all. I honestly can’t say anything more about the performance, they nailed pretty much every line and I don’t think I could fault a single moment of the story telling.

In closing, if you’re looking for a break from vanilla, beige and brown realistic shooters, then you owe it to yourself to give the Darkness II a try. You won’t be disappointed.

A Call For Aid.

In my last article I expressed the shock and horror at the pond scum that sent death threats to Ninja Theory over the Devil May Cry reboot. Sadly it seems these same bottom feeders have been far more active in other fields too, targeting one of Bioware’s writers. Jenifer Hepler worked on the Dwarven commoner origin story in Dragon Age: Origins (which many regard as the best arc of the entire game), among other projects and characters.

In an interview back in 2006, she made the suggestion that maybe there should be an option to skip combat sequences in games, in much the same way you can skip cut scenes now. A few days ago, someone got hold of this and spread it around.

In the minds of these backward knuckle draggers (many of whom originated on the /r/gaming community of Reddit, a once excellent community now dominated by said Neanderthals who have turned it into a slightly prettier looking version of /v/) this simple suggestion marked her out as ‘the cancer that is killing gaming’. She ended up getting telephone calls on her home phone and other communications calling on her to kill herself, insults about her weight and more misogyny than you’d find in a turn of the centaury gentleman’s club.

These fucking slackjaws couldn’t even maintain a focus on why they were angry. She was just another target for them to slap around to make their balls (metaphorical or literal) feel big- like all cases of abuse. And make no mistake- this behaviour is abuse. If you participated in this ‘campaign’ I hold you in no better regard than I hold a domestic abuser. I know what I am talking about here. I doubt these people would target the individuals who have done the most damage to gaming such as... oh I don't know... each other?

The icing on this shit cake is that many people joined in the mass diatribe purely because they hated the fact she includes gay characters and women in prominent roles. This woman has been hounded and victimized by a community she has helped to enrich with some of the best writing and most entertaining characters of recent years.

Frankly, this is not acceptable. Even if you don’t like her work, I’m sure you can agree that this mob hate is totally uncalled for. If not then fuck off; I don’t want you and your kind here.

Allegra Hawksmoor whom I have previously mentioned on this blog has taken it on herself to put a petition together calling on Bioware to publicly support Hepler. If you have any decency in your soul, please spend the 30 seconds of your time it takes to sign it. Spread the word. Help to try and undo at least some of the damage that these degenerates have done.

In Defence of Reboots, Spin Offs and Evolution.

SPOILER WARNING: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

We gamers are by and large a very protective bunch; we tend to hold certain games and franchises as entirely sacrosanct. In and of itself there’s nothing wrong with that idea- after all, why change what’s perfect? Why fix what isn’t broken? Sadly that attitude does tend to lead to considerable anger, resentment and a string of F-bombs. Point in case is the immediate knee jerk response which many people have to news that a videogame franchise is going to change- typically to report to the forums, don the flame retardant outfits and cut loose with the burning heat of ten thousand suns, often before the game has even been released, let alone played.

Today’s piece is an attempt to look at this culture of cainotophobia, examine the effects and highlight why it is a problem. Especially in light of three controversial changes which we have coming up: X-Com, Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising.

As anyone who has read my work before knows, I love Metal Gear Solid. One day I will actually get around to writing my review of Guns of the Patriots, if I can ever write it without sounding like a screaming fanboy. So when news broke that Kojima was ditching the familiar stealth based game mechanics in favour of a third person action game staring the much hated Raiden, I was less than happy. I was not alone. Many fans of the series threw their toys out of the pram and had less than positive things to say on the subject.


After a while though I sat down and thought about it. And you know what? I came to the conclusion that this was a good thing. Snake’s story is done. Not only Snake’s, but we also got the origins of Big Boss too. Ocelot’s tale was also wound and packaged with a neat little bow (admittedly held together with retcons and hope). Even secondary characters like Otacon and Meryl had completed their arcs. Metal Gear Solid 4 was essentially the death of the series- in a good way.

Where do you go from there? If you keep trying to create more and more games of the same ilk you end with the videogame equivalent of the Simpsons, I.E an endless drudge through the same jokes, same characters, same set ups and same situations as the writers desperately try to find new material.

I’d rather Kojima tried to do something new and fresh rather than keep on recycling the same plot and characters. Could Kojima tell a new story with new characters but keep the gameplay mechanics? Quite possibly, but why not experiment a little? It’s not like it precludes the possibility of more classic Metal Gear games in the future.

As an example of a recent series that has fallen into such a trap, look no further than Assassin’s Creed. By the end of Brotherhood it was apparent that the development of the meta-plot had slowed considerably, but there was still movement and depth to it. Revelations however, is a game that is totally and utterly unnecessary. It does virtually nothing to change the gameplay mechanics, bar adding a couple of pointless new items of kit (mustn’t go off on a rant about the wrist mounted crow bar... mustn’t do it... stay focused...), a horrible, no brainer tower defence game and a poorly executed overly intricate replacement to the sleek and fast assassin management/mission system from Brotherhood. The meta plot is literally nonexistent. The ‘Revelation’ is the exact same shocker ending from AC2, the Ezio plot achieves nothing compared with the wonderful story telling in AC2 and AC:B, and I found Altair’s sections to be nonsensical torture with little point or substance. Brotherhood ended on a cliff hanger and the writers didn’t even have the decency to resolve that properly, opting instead for a few wishy washy lines to write off what should have been a hugely important character point. Talk about women in fridges.

I love the look on Desmond's face here. It's like he's trying to read the small print prices on a menu.

Long story short, Revelations is the prime example of what happens when you spin a good idea out for too long- it gets stale, repetitive and pointless. It’s better to end on a triumphant note and try something new- even if it fails. That way at least you don’t mar your genuine achievements.

So please take from this the idea that a new direction for a series is not a bad thing. It’s better than watching something you deeply enjoy slowly degenerate into beige mush. And don’t forget- it’s very unlikely that the new direction will the final word on your favourite franchise. Publishers don’t like to lose revenue, and if there is still demand for a ‘classic’ version of the game, then they will probably push developers to make one- as we shall discuss near the end of this piece.

So, that covers changes in direction, but what about reboots? Our case in point here will be one that I am really looking forward to, but many other people seem to have decided to hate- Devil May Cry.

This title has proven extremely divisive and it hasn’t even been released yet. To be fair though it’s not hard to see why people are worried. Devil May Cry is widely regarded as one of the best spectacle fighters around; if it has any competition then it’s probably other Capcom games of the same ilk (notably Bayonetta).

The protagonist, Dante, is in the eyes of many the epitome of cool. We’re talking a slick pimp daddy who makes Fonzie look like Carlton. And of course when you look at the character design, the fighting style, the cocky ‘better than you’ attitude and the laid back approach to being menaced by demons from hell the size of a house- it’s not hard to see why people love this guy. He’s like Batman, John Wayne, Blade and James Bond rolled into an Adonis of manliness on the thighs of Chuck Norris. Even if he does have the depth of an aristocratic gene pool.

One of Sony's most iconic heroes.

So when Ninja Theory announced they were working with Capcom on a reboot and revealed the following picture, people flipped their lids:

Does anyone else think of Hellblazer when they see this?

I’m not kidding here. Ninja Theory received fucking death threats about this. I’d like you to think about this for a moment. A studio received death threats for rebooting a videogame. If you want to see humanity at some of its most cruel and base, over something so... first world problem, just Google ‘Devil May Cry Reboot’ and read some of the comments. Or if you’re feeling really masochistic, search for it on YouTube. Take some anti depressants first.

You know what the hell of it is? Capcom are not giving Ninja Theory free reign over this. They are working together very closely on every aspect of the game- including character design. Don’t see people sending horse heads to Kenzo Tsujimoto, do you?

But even if we take these extreme examples away, the reaction to the game has still been negative with very little base beyond ‘this isn’t DmC’.

And they’re right- it isn’t. Capcom and Ninja Theory have taken great pains to ensure that people are aware that this reboot is NOT in canon with the other games. It is an alternative universe prequel. Sit down and think about this for a moment. They’ve not ‘killed the character’. They’ve not made him into an emo kid. They’ve not pissed all over Hideki Kamiya’s legacy. It is a completely separate, stand alone universe. Just like my case with Metal Gear, this also means that there is still scope for ‘Dante Classic’ to make more appearances, and do so unsullied by this reboot. DmC 5 is not off the cards.

Hideki Kamiya specified that the original Dante didn't smoke. This one does. Therefore, this game is complete and total crap in every way. This is the logic I'm trying to deal with here people.

With that most of the reason for the hate vanishes. Now you can argue that you just don’t like how the game is looking- and that’s fine. However I fail to see why you should act as if it’s been fucking your family dog just because of that. How can it be a betrayal of something that it isn’t even supposed to be directly connected to? That’s the entire point of a reboot.

DC Comics run a publication imprint called ‘Esleworlds’. Its sole purpose is to house stories that have a lot of potential, but simply can’t fit into the DC Universe Canon. Put simply, it is a publishing imprint dedicated to the idea of remakes and re imaginings. They house some pretty cool stuff, such as the excellent ‘Superman: Red Son’, in which Superman crash lands in Russia as opposed to the United States and is raised as a cold war communist. How about Gotham by Gaslight, which takes place in a Victorian Gotham with Batman hunting down Not Jack the Ripper? Still not awesome enough for you? How about Batman: Leatherwing where the caped crusader is a Blackbeared-esque pirate? Even Marvel have a similar line of comics such as Marvel 1602, in which we see the same heroes in an Elizabethan setting.

There's an 'In Soviet Russia' joke here somewhere... damnit.

All of these are fantastic stories which would never have gone to print if this conservative hate mentality was involved in the decision- and frankly Superman: Red Son alone justifies the existence of the reboot idea.

Oh, and it’s not like the DmC series itself hasn’t shot itself in the foot on a couple of occasions. DmC2 perhaps? And don’t forget Nero ‘I’m not Raiden guv’ from DmC4. Don’t get me wrong, I love DmC but you have to admit it’s had its low points without interference from another party.

The only real argument is that Ninja Theory’s games have thus far been middling. I personally love their emphasis of characterization, narrative and writing. While Heavenly sword was mediocre it took its story telling very seriously and that made it a fun experience. Enslaved was likewise an excellent title which improved on the gameplay while maintaining a very high standard of narrative polish.

Remember though that Capcom are also heavily involved in development! Just imagine this for me- the gameplay and combat quality of Capcom’s spectacle fighters, with the character presentation and writing ability of Ninja Theory, each complementing the other. If you seriously don’t think that combination has massive potential well... fair’s fair I suppose.

So when it comes to reboots and remakes, all I’m asking is that you remember these items are supposed to be separate, and as such need to be judged on their own merits. Give them a chance. Being completely independent spin offs also means that they in no way impede on, or prevent the creation of the original ‘core’ franchise you love, and often a reboot allows a series to go places and explore ideas that would otherwise not be possible.

My third and final point before we close up shop for the day is that of change in general. The focus of this article is to try and impart the idea that change is needed in order to keep the games we love fresh and interesting, and that fans should endeavour to separate their fear of change from how they judge the quality of any other game in the series. But of course, if developers change too much then these games cease to be the thing we love, and become something else entirely.

Publishers and developers need to know that while progress is change, change is not always progress. Final Fantasy XIII received a very lukewarm reception from many fans of the series, as many of the changes were perceived as mostly negative. X-Com’s move from its classic Turn Based Strategy/management roots to the realms of ‘Tactical FPS’ met with outright hostility- so much so that 2K caved to fan pressure and agreed to also produce a ‘classic’ X-Com game alongside it. See what I mean when I say new directions and reboots do not necessarily become the future of a franchise?

X-Com is an example of change really going too far. It has no connection at all to the series that it is supposed to be a part of. Even if you are doing a complete series reboot, you need to keep some element in place or else you are just making any old game and slapping a franchise sticker on it in order to try and make it sell better. The X-Com shooter is not the same genre, not the same setting, not the same time period, it doesn’t even use the same enemies and is... well, completely different. Thus it represents far more change than any fan could be reasonably expected to tolerate. There’s a reboot, and then there’s just making an entirely new game.

Metal Gear Rising and DmC though keep at least some ties. MGR keeps the same setting and a familiar character, just changing gameplay. DmC has a different version of an established character and a new setting- but by all accounts so far keeps the same core gameplay style. X-Com kept nothing. Even X-Com: Interceptor didn’t drop the ball that badly. It may well turn out to be a really good game in its own right- but is simply won’t be X-Com. As such you can’t expect existing fans to relate to it or get excited about it. It’s like expecting a Brit who enjoys football to enjoy American football just because they both have the same name.

So much as I’m trying to appeal to ravening haters with this post, I need to acknowledge that they have a point. Publishers can’t expect fans to accept just any change that is thrown at a series, but at the same time fans need to realise that change is not an inherently bad thing. It’s often better to chance it rather than to allow a series to grow stale.

Basically all I’m asking is that when change comes-a-knockin’, you give it a chance. Without it, even your most loved series will eventually become stale and old. While change certainly has produced some really bad results, without it gaming would not have evolved and shifted to give us these titles which we so fiercely defend today.

Human Revolution Further Thoughts And Missing Link Review

So, I just finished a second play through of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It really is a lot more enjoyable on the second round- and given how good it was the first time that is saying a lot. With a firmer idea of the game's mechanics and what you can and can't do it's much more enjoyable. Strangely enough I also found myself mixing up my play style a little more as I was wasting less augs on things I knew I didn't want, and so could try playing with other ideas. The end result was less stealthy and non lethal and a little closer to how Splinter Cell: Conviction is played, I.E stealth backed up with tactical combat. The Boss fights are also less of a grind as you can actually prepare for them, I visited Barret with a rocket launcher handy and the others got a dose of fully levelled up Typhoon. The ending set up still sucks, but hey, it's just a small nasty barb on the end of a fantastic game.

I also grabbed the DLC package ‘The Missing Link’. It was meh. Reasonably well executed, but it falls into the same mechanical traps as a lot of DLC (I.E stripping you of your kit and skills to balance to the game, as opposed to just... balancing the game). It certainly isn’t bad, but it’s just so unnecessary. It doesn’t square up with the rest of the plot- which is fine in basic principle (Fallout 3 and New Vegas used DLC to tell their own self contained stories)- but given that the DLC is billed as filling in a gap in the story it does a pretty crap of job it. This is especially true when you consider the gap was left in (or more accurately alluded to) specifically for the DLC. All in all, at £8.99 I don’t think it’s worth it.

Removing your augs is also a bit of a shitter. Deus Ex: Human Revolution really comes into its own once you’ve found the play style you like and the augments to make it work. Taking away the augments and your gear is just a lazy way to make you improvise. I get the idea; I really do- force the player out of their comfort zone and create a new challenge in doing so. My complaint is that we’ve already faced these challenges before- at the start of the game when we were finding our feet. Wouldn’t some new enemies, or new obstacles (no, those spinning lasers don’t count) be a much better way to create a challenge? It would be fresh and new as opposed to just treading over the same ground again.

But again the level design remains complex with multiple routes and ways to play, the acting is still pretty good and the artistic direction (while very reminiscent of Doom III), is quite imposing. It’s good, it just feels a little lazy and could’ve been as good as the main game.

The Missing Link is about four hours of extra gameplay, nothing more and nothing less. If you’re willing to pay the better part of a tenner for that then you’ll have a blast. If you wanted something a little more though, you will be disappointed.

Why I Loathe Final Fantasy XIII's Story.

So, With FFXIII-2 released, the old debates about XIII have flared up again like a case of genital warts. In several areas I have been professing my distate for the plot of XIII, and after hearing people actively praising it, I was spurred into action. What follows was originally intended to be a response to a post on Reddit, however after hours of righteous, furious typing it was simply too long to allow. I had no desire to edit it down. So here it is, the distilaion of my loathing and contempt for the plot and characters of Final Fantasy XIII.

The Fal’cie are idiots. They brand servants to do a job- fine. And why don’t they just tell the servants what that job is instead of giving them some vague, indefinable dream? We see in the game that they are perfectly capable of communicating with and understanding humans, so what is the problem? Hell, why brand them? Just go “We will give you wealth and power within Cocoon if you do this thing for us. Hell, we run the place.” Even though they’re planning on blowing up the shop they can LIE.

And with that, the entire point of the game falls down. The whole plot is built on the idea of these bastards fucking with the character’s lives, and lo- they don’t even need to do it. If it wasn’t for the fact we see that the Fal’Cie CAN communicate with humans then there’d be a basis for it- kind of like people trying to train animals. But they can fucking well TALK to people. This makes even less sense than Battlefield Earth. If the Psychlo could implant knowledge into humans, why not do it to make them more effective slaves? You don’t need to teach them kung fu, but if they could understand what you are saying, surely it makes more sense to enable communication? You can compare this game to Battlefield Earth. Think about that.

And even if we write out the fact that Fal’Cie can communicate with humans and accept that they are so divine, so godly so far advanced beyond the ken of humans that we are like worms to them- it’s still stupid. If these things are so advanced then they can see humans are intelligent. We build shit. We operate machines. We have TECHNOLOGY. We create art. Hell, we are even a threat to them! They can’t be that bloody advanced if the player party can kick the living shit out of one before they even get access to the levelling system. Battlefield Earth again.

Hope wants to kill Snow. Why doesn’t he? No, really, why doesn’t he? He has plenty of opportunity. He can shove a fucking bladed boomerang in his back at any time. He could cast a lightning spell on him. Hell, Snow TRUSTS him. He could trick him next to a ledge and push him off it. The idea that he’s struggling with his lust for revenge against everything else that’s going on would be a fine element for a story, but when you stretch it out for about 20 hours it just turns the character into an annoying, whiney little prick. Arcs looking at the human condition and inner torment are fine, but they require movement, they require analysis of the character dealing with their pain and they require resolution. Watching someone bitch, whine and moan for nearly twenty hours before just deciding ‘Ah never mind he ‘aint not that bad’ is not good story telling. You enjoy that sort of thing? Go and watch Twilight. It’s the exact same self absorbed, pointless, ‘feel my pain’, bad moral tripe. I never thought my response to a character who has lost a parent would be ‘Get the fuck over it’- especially not one written by a professional author.

Lightning is without a doubt one of the worst protagonists I have ever seen. She is bland, shallow and utterly, utterly thick. Oh I can see what she was supposed to be the strong empowered woman- the badass who can hold it with the best of them- but the writers fall into the same trap every moron does when writing such a character- they add the badass and forget the character. I’ve seen more emotion and life from Easter decorations. She hits things with a sword, cold shoulders everyone and feeds out the same ‘if you never expect anything good you’ll never be disappointed’ crap that Cloud and Squall chucked out, or that ‘you can’t have any emotion if you want to survive’ bullshit. “Oh but she’s supposed to be withdrawn, taciturn and then develops, realising that people need other people and its okay to rely on friends!” The fanboys shout. “Cloud did it and you like Final Fantasy VII!” Others bellow. Well, there are two responses to this. Response one is that THIS HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE. New idea. Move on. Change- innovation. Good innovation if you please. Response two is that when Cloud came out of his shell it was a gradual, slow realization building up to a Eureka moment when his delusions of life are stripped away and he is revealed for the pantywaist failure that he is- and he decides ‘Fuck it I’m going to give it my best shot anyway’. You know... the exact opposite of Hope? Lightning just spontaneously decided it was okay to be a human being too.

There’s virtually no analysis, no look at the characters dealing with this. Just Eidolon fight and bing! Everything is magically better again. Compare this with Final Fantasy VII, where characters have large sections of game time dedicated to looking at why they became like they are, then providing catharsis and development. Barrett returns to Corel and we discover his past, which results in a confrontation with Dyne, forcing forgiveness and catharsis on Barrett in a bitter form. It’s not happy, but it gives him resolution and perspective. It’s a small, self contained story- not a rapidly hashed out set piece to be burned through as quickly as possible. How about Cid? Another self contained story of a man who has his dream taken away from him, and yet he develops as the game progresses, achieves his dream and becomes a better, more rounded person as he does so. You see it happening, bit by bit. Even Red XIII gets an actual, independent segment of story to push and develop his character, as opposed to a few random scenes here and there, which is all the characters in XIII ever get.

On a final note on this topic I once heard a claim Lightning is supposed to be suffering from PTSD. I hope this is not the case as if it is then her character arc is the most insulting, demeaning representation of a serious psychological condition I have seen in almost any form of media. You do not simply recover from PTSD by having an emo rage episode. Moving on.

Okay, maybe this is a cultural thing, but isn’t there a real age gap between Serah and Snow? I mean he looks like he’s in or past his mid twenties, and she... well she doesn’t even look sixteen. It’s hard for me to care about a romance when all I can see is a paedophile. Frankly, it’s creepier than Final Fantasy X sexualising Rikku at every turn (who the manual says is 15). That blows the point of those characters out of the water.

Vanille was from Pulse!? SHOCK! HORROR! SCANDAL! Err... this was supposed to be a twist right? Because the game certainly tried to sell it like one but it’s obvious from the moment you see her she’s not a bloody local. Oh and if I have to hear that nasal, helium enhanced whine ever again I will probably snap. Piss annoying character, totally stock, not any effort made to even try and disguise her as something interesting. She also reminded me of Ed from Cowboy Bebop- another character I loathe. In fact they are both cut from the same stereotype. All either of them do is bounce around and make annoying observations in a light hearted detached way that offers all the substance of a soap bubble. Kind of like every character in X-2.

Okay, how about something positive? Sazh is the closest thing the game ever gets to an interesting character, and is the axle on which the game’s one actual moving and dramatic moment turns (his bittersweet reunion with his son). Beyond that his job is to go ‘I’m too old for this. By the way did anyone notice I’m black?’ That chocobo chick he has. Purpose? Point? Other than to imply that an afro is like a bird’s nest? Was it supposed to be endearing? Because frankly Sazh’s quest to save his son and the obvious lengths he’d go to for him did that just fine. He was the only character whose motivations I gave a shit about. Was it supposed to be funny? If so, how? He has a bird living in his hair and sometimes it comes out and chirps a bit before going back. Where’s the joke? I used to keep rats and sometimes they slept on my face. Was that funny?

Fang. Oh Fang. You left about as much of an impact as a fly bashing against a window. Mind you in this game at least that means you probably weren’t quite as terrible as the rest of the cast.

So, the gang are branded by the Fal’Cie and decide they are not going to accept their fate! They will not end up as crystals or zombies! Yeah right on, we’re going to not destroy Cocoon by... uh... destroying cocoon. Did I miss a logical step here? One minute the group is standing around declaring how they will never kill Orphan and destroy Cocoon. Next thing I know I’m... umm... killing Orphan. How exactly did this happen? Okay so Fang saves the day... uhh... how? Did I miss something important? Didn’t she and Vanille become the destroyer of worlds or something? What did they just change their minds? Can they do that? If they could do that then what this entire fucking story in aid of!? Why was this all important? Are you telling me I busted my balls for fifty hours when Fang and Vanille could have just wondered up to Orphan, turned into Ragnarok and gone “RAAAAAGHHHHH.... oh never mind. Kthnxbai.” Okay, I get that the party kill Orphan and then Fang and Vanille become Ragnarok to save Cocoon from crashing but... they can do that? Really? You’re telling me that The Fal’Cie created this elaborate plan to destroy Cocoon... AND GAVE THE SAME PEOPLE THE POWER TO FUCKING SAVE IT!? It’s like planning an assassination attempt and giving the assassin a few blank rounds. Why would you do this? If you want to destroy a place you do not give the people who will be doing it- Who you are forcing to do it against their will even- the means to also foil your plan. This makes less sense than a Bond villain execution- at least they have the motive that they want to watch a hated enemy suffer and die slowly. Again we come back to the fact that the Fal’Cie are fucking idiots, and the plot of the story only works because these ‘super advanced beings’ couldn’t plan to fall down some stairs.

It also suggests something very disturbing about our characters. Did they know Fang and Vanille could do this? If not then they just risked the lives of millions of people on the hope that an opportunity would present itself- all to save their own skins. What arseholes! If they did know Fang and Vanille could do this when why not just... do it? Why not just have Ragnarok kill Orphan, and then save Cocoon? Why even return? Couldn’t you just tell Vanille and Fang to turn into the harvester of souls and send them up to Cocoon to kill Orphan and then build the pillar to stop Cocoon crashing? All this makes option one more likely- which just compounds my contempt for these characters.

I probably missed something important though, thanks in no small part to the reams and reams of text. This is an absolutely inexcusable way to tell a story in a videogame. A videogame is a GAME. It is something to be played. Narrative should be woven into the game. You should not have to pause the game access a menu and read most of the game’s plot, or shitty little articles that are supposed to help the twisted mess make sense. Conceptually it’s no different than if I go to see a film and it’s just two hours of still shots with text scrolling over them. If I wanted to read, I would read a book. This is easily the most unpardonable offence in Final Fantasy XIII’s story telling. No, I don’t give a shit if I do need to read it to get the story- it’s an atrocious waste of my time. I bought a game- not a book, a GAME.

Now you can argue that I like Mullet Gear Solid and Kojima spends most of his time making endless cut scenes. And that pisses me off too. But at least Kojima has the decency to punctuate his film with some pretty good gameplay sequences. How about the stories in Lost Odyssey? Well, those where not vital to the plot (so could be skipped), and more importantly were beautifully written, heart rending pieces set to gentle and appropriate background music and sounds, and also did interesting things with font to convey a new reading experience. One of those stories moved me to tears. They were gorgeous.

Final Fantasy XIII’s text reads like a vanilla movie summary, lacking passion, any emotive content or even the slightest hint of skill.

Bottom line, I am not going read your book when I paid for a game, especially when it’s a pointless, lazy alternative to selling your story better in the game to begin with. It’s (or at least was) 2010. We’re not in the text adventure era any more.

What about VII though? That had endless talky scenes didn’t it? Cloud and Tifa’s last night together at the well, Cloud and Tifa piecing together Cloud’s memories... the umpteen hundred times the player group sat around and yakked pointlessly? Again, two things. One, those scenes pissed me off also, but two, they were more interesting as you saw events going on (admittedly the graphics by these day’s standard’s mean that isn’t really a good thing), and the game also used background music to enhance the experience. They were not exactly entertaining, but they were tolerable and some were actually quite sweet and emotive. It had- and still has- far more life to it than a wall of text.

Man, fuck this I’m going to talk about something else.

The Eidolons. Okay, as a narrative device, it’s kind of a cool idea. It also makes sense for the Fal’Cie to use them- your servant not going to work? They emo raging to the point of not actually being useful anymore- possibly because you didn’t just tell them what you wanted? Have you, the writer, driven them into an emotional corner and can’t think of a way out? Do or die time bitches! And initially it works. However as the game progresses the impact of these scenes gets less and less until the last few scenes become “Oh, character freaking out- better get ready for a boss fight”, and the scene looses any emotional connection. The last one to actually have an impact (and probably the most well done of the bunch- in fact the best scene of the game) is Sazh versus the Eidolon that transforms into a drag racer. Speaking of which don’t even get me started on the eidolon stylization and mechanics. Well I will say this at least- I laughed so, so hard each time one transformed into a Michael Bay wet dream. It was almost worth forty quid just for those laughs.

I am absolutely certain that I could pull apart even more of this game (I’ve not even mentioned those god damn flashbacks), but it’s been about what... two years since release? I didn’t play it after I completed and thankfully I’ve forgotten most of the experience. But I think I’ve made my point clear. The game is horrendously told even before you consider the actual ‘Tube’ that the game takes place in and the plot has more holes in it that a tramp’s socks. The basis of the entire story is patchy at best. The ending reveals that the entire journey was pointless because the character’s always had the means to cheat their fate. The journey itself was dull and unsatisfying, populated by uninteresting, cardboard cut out characters who either had no idea how to realize their motives, had no motives or just whined and bitched for fifty hours.

Nearly three thousand words. Three thousand and I didn’t even mention the gameplay mechanics- which are a fresh slice of hell all their own.

Evis T Reviews Space Marine... FOR THE EMPERAH!

So, Space Marine. I said in my thoughts on the demo ( that I would buy the game if it came down in price, and it has thanks to a Steam sale. I’ve played through the entire single player campaign. What did I think of it? Well, the demo was certainly a poor representation of the positive aspects of the game; however it was a shining example its shortfalls.

There are many, many shortfalls. That said though, Space Marine manages to remain an entertaining title and while it can be frustrating at times, it is pretty fun. The melee combat is mostly well executed (bar a few unpleasant faults) and has a totally unique feel which sets the game apart from other melee centric action games like God of War.

I stand by my assertion that a cover system would be helpful though, if only because in the late game you pretty much need to soften up groups of enemies before you can charge- and they can often chuck firepower back at you capable of killing you in four or five hits (Ork missile troops and Chaos plasma gunners for example) and if you’re unlucky you will get about four or five of these troops firing at you at once. With a little practise you can work around this, but you’ll still find that every so often (often enough to be noticeable) you die from a concentrated blast of rockets because your head was sticking out. Conceptually, the idea of a cover system doesn’t work so well with the game, so perhaps a better idea would be to depower these ‘heavy’ units a little. It isn’t a game breaker, but it does get irritating and when combined with the other main criticism discussed below, totally changes how the game is played, moving it away from a melee centric experience with a bit of shooting into something more akin to Gears of War.

The biggest fault with Space Marine remains the ‘execute to heal’ mechanic. Again, I touched on this in my review of the demo and I stand by the sentiment. It’s a fantastic gameplay idea, but it needs more work. You just can’t perform an execution when you’re fighting against a large number of enemies because you will certainly be killed while the animation takes place. One could argue that this means simply picking the correct moment to use the special move is important- and thus makes combat more strategic- but you don’t have that much control over the melee- especially in later fights as enemies are much harder to stun, and you need to stun an enemy to execute them. About mid way through the game you start praying each time you perform an execution that it will be one of the shorter ones, as a long one is pretty much a death sentence in all but the smallest of melees.

In later fights this just gets even worse. Towards the end of the game I didn’t even bother trying to engage anyone in close combat- I just used ranged weapons and headshoted every Chaos Marine I saw with a lascannon. Going into close combat with them was pointless as they were too tough to stun, did loads of damage, and their retinues would chip me down into the floor anyway.

As I said earlier I get the impression you are supposed to use ranged weapons to soften up the enemy groups and then charge in chainsword whirring to finish the job, but enemy behaviour and gameplay ‘features’ emphasise long range combat. The problem is that the only enemies who pose a significant threat to you at range are the first ones you pick off (Plasma gunners and the like) and once they are gone all that’s left are the enemies dangerous in a melee- so why close to range when you can just keep shooting them? If you keep your distance they’ll probably never even get through your shields so you don’t even need to recover health by fighting them. Getting into the melee is suicide as ranged enemies can still shoot you and your movement is far more restricted once you are surrounded. This is very sad because- again- Space Marine’s melee combat system is really good, and certainly the most enjoyable part of the game.

The graphics are middling to poor. The art direction is brown, grey, dust brown, and occasionally purple. Some people who read this complaint in my thoughts on the demo said that this should be the case because 40K is ‘Grimdark’; I say fuck that noise- look up concept art for 40K and you’ll see plenty of examples of striking colours; gold, brass, emerald and so forth. Even the Titan is just an oblique brown angular... almost polygon. A titan should have character, style, flair. It should look impressive. It should engender many responses but ‘oh, that’s it?’ should not be one of them. In terms of quality the graphics are also quite shabby. The textures are poor, the animation is odd and the lighting and particle effects are basic at best.

There are also many, many clipping errors and animation bugs- usually centred on the executions. You’ll lob a Chaos Marine to the floor inside a wall, stamp on an Ork skull while the said beast’s head is floating in mid air and so forth. It’s not game breaking but it is very distracting and happens far, far too often.

The spectacle of Space Marine however is everything I thought it would be. If you’re a 40K fanboy then Space Marine has wanking material in abundance. There’s plenty of ‘For the Emperor!’ and ‘Die Greenskins!’ to be had. The story is also reasonably well told with only a few plot holes- and this is what really saves Space Marine from just being bland.

The game is a fun experience. You can forgive the poorly considered (though admittedly inventive) gameplay mechanics, the dodgy graphics, and the weird voice work because at the end of the day despite its flaws Space Marine manages to be fun and entertaining. When it works the combat is strategic and fast paced- if a little repetitive. To be fair even when the combat doesn’t work it’s still rewarding, intense, challenging and as much as I complain about the healing mechanics they don’t very often feel cheap or spawn the urge to rage quit. I intend to get the (inevitable) sequel, but again I won’t be paying full price for it. While I had fun with Space Marine I simply can’t justify spending £30 on a game which has such deep cracks in it.

Make of that what you will.
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