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This month I decided to go back in time a bit and play through Okami. Originally released on the PS2 in 2006 and eventually on the Wii in 2008 it was one of those games that was universally acclaimed by critics the world over but just didn’t sell for whatever reason. I count myself among the number of non buyers simply because I had never seen enough of it for it to truly engage my interest. However, thanks to Playstation Plus having it available for free this month I finally gave in and downloaded it.
Going in my expectations were appropriately high considering the ridiculous amount of praise it received from game critics. What I was not expecting was for those expectations to be absolutely shattered. Not really knowing anything about it going in apart from a few basic plot details I was expecting a simple but charming 12 hour adventure and not the 50 hour epic that it turned out to be. It was one of those experiences where knowing less about it going in made the journey so much better.
As the game begins you get told a little bit of the backstory of the game through silhouetted storyboards. Peaceful village terrorised by angry dragon claiming a yearly sacrifice of the village’s most beautiful maiden who the village’s greatest warrior is in love with and subsequently runs off to save her from the beast. So far so cliché. However in this story there is also the presence of a mysterious white wolf whom the villagers nicknamed Shiranui who aided the warrior in defeating the serpent at the cost of its life. Game hadn’t even started yet and it was already giving me feels. At this point I could already tell I was gonna end up a sobbing mess by the end. After the short intro you are then placed in the shoes (or paws rather) of the famous white wolf from the story who in actuality is the sun god Amaterasu who, after a short summation of the world’s current predicament is joined in her adventure by the diminutive and rather pervy Issun; a tiny sprite like creature who pops out from between the breasts of the rather well endowed tree spirit who brought Amaterasu back to life.
With that you’re put through a short tutorial and sent on your merry way to save the land. Amaterasu is hardly defenceless however, even at the beginning she comes with some fancy tricks. On her back she carries her main weapon which is the start is a small reflector that you can basically bash enemies about with but later on this can be swapped out for improved reflectors, rosary chains and even swords one of which can also be equipped as a sub weapon with varying results depending on the weapon type. These can also be backed up with a number of holy artefacts which can augment different parts of Amaterasu’s powers. Her greatest weapon however is her celestial brush. Yeah you read that right. As a god Amaterasu has the ability to affect the world in different ways as she sees fit. This is done through painting different things to achieve varying results. Filling in a broken bridge fixes it, drawing a line through an enemy cuts it in two and so on and so forth. By game’s end you’ll have mastered around 13 of these different abilities some of which have multiple levels and functions so you have plenty of powers at your disposal to mess around around with as you journey through Nippon.
Right away you will notice that visually, Okami resembles no other game that you have ever played. Simply put; it looks like a watercolour painting come to life. Landscapes are drawn with broad strokes and colours are simultaneously strong and vibrant yet soft and muted, as if the paint has seeped into the canvas. In locations like Kamiki Village, rose-hued blossoms waft past as the setting sun paints a calm orange over the landscape, while the subdued greens and greys of cursed zones make those areas feel stifled and foreboding. As you journey through these areas as Amaterasu, you leave a small trail of grass and flower petals in your wake, showing the power of the sun god and signifying the brilliance you are aiming to restore.
Which brings me onto the game’s best moments.As you journey through Nippon you will encounter areas devoid of life and colour and it is your job to restore these areas. It’s an absolutely blissful moment every single time you achieve this. Tasked with restoring an afflicted sapling to its former beauty, you bring it to life with a swirl of your paintbrush. The sapling bursts with light, a melody of soft pink flowers blooms on its young branches, and lush green meadows breathlessly sweep away the cursed countryside, returning vitality to the diseased landscape. It’s a moment of sheer joy and wonder that stays with you long after the story is over and is repeated several times through the game’s epic tale.
The constant visual beauty seen throughout the game is evenly matched by fantastic sound design that compliments the visual style perfectly and makes Okami and absolute delight to experience every time you turn it on. Battles are signalled by the thumping of drums and the harsh, sharp whistle of a wooden flute. The spread of petals and leaves is accompanied by the strums of harps. When you talk with some of the more quirky characters, bassoon and clarinet riffs complement their rants. The emotional range of the soundtrack parallels the pervading sentiment in any given scene or battle, so while it’s easy to heap praise on the unique visual style alone, the soundtrack and sound effects are just as extraordinary. The one area where the sound falls short though has to be the voices. Rather than being fully voiced, characters will speak in an array of squeaks and mumbles which, while initially charming can begin to get a little irritating when the same sound strings play multiple times during one conversation. This one tiny nitpick however does absolutely nothing to diminish the game in the slightest.
All in all each of these unique and wonderful elements that make up Okami all coalesce into a completely one of a kind experience that’s almost impossible to put down. One minute you’ll be hurtling down a river at breakneck speed on a runaway log slowing it by drawing makeshift vines with your magical paintbrush. The next you’ll be searching for hidden treasure in the bowels of a sunken ship, siphon flames from a fiery foe to defeat an icy one, and even get an eight-headed demonic serpent drunk with holy sake. None of these tasks serve as particularly challenging, but the variety of outstanding gameplay, and the brilliant stylishness with which it’s presented, will keep pushing you forward and just when you think you’ve reached the end, there’s even more to see and do, the game constantly increasing in size and scope until the 50 or even 60 hour mark is creeping up on you and you have no idea where the time has gone. And you won’t even care; instead just wanting to dive right back in to play it all over again.
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So my blog has been all but silent this past month. But for good reason as I have been spending the last few weeks with one of the best games of this year. As you may have already noticed from the title, I’m talking about the reboot of one of gaming’s most well known franchises and along with it, a complete reinvention of its iconic heroine, Lara Croft.
The game wastes no time dumping you in at the deep end either. From the get go you’re met with such brutality unseen in the franchise before. It’s immediately apparent that the developers have taken great care in transforming the world of Tomb Raider; throwing out the rulebook followed by all the other games in the series and instead creating a much more primal and visceral experience, trading in the pistol-toting superhero of the old games for a younger, inexperienced Lara who over the course of the game goes from being a vulnerable and frightened young woman to a hardened survivor.
From the outset its pretty clear this isn’t the cocky and confident treasure hunter from past games. Instead we are placed in the shoes of a fresh and inexperienced 21 year old Lara, barely out of University and eager to set out on an adventure of her own. As the game begins it quickly becomes clear that Lara will be in for one hell of a first outing. During the opening scene we see Lara relaxing in her cabin on board the Endurance; the ship Lara and crew are travelling on which quickly falls victim to a raging storm, ripping the ship apart in seconds and leaving Lara washed up on the beach having almost drowned. With barely enough time to even catch her breath she is set upon by an unknown assailant. One of many mysterious individuals populating the island of Yamatai where our young heroine has landed.
The following events don’t see Lara’s fortunes improve much either. Over the next few minutes Lara is captured and strung up in a makeshift bodybag requiring her to set herself on fire in order to break free which then leads to her fall onto a sharp spike below, grievously wounding the young adventurer before she sets off through a labyrinth of caverns all the while being hunted by another mysterious attacker and nearly getting crushed by falling rocks when the roof collapses behind her as she narrowly makes her escape outside.
This sort of sets the tone for the game really. As Lara’s time on the island wears on the amount of punishment she takes borders on insane. The more sadistic among you might also find yourself reliving a couple of her death scenes just to watch the sheer creative brutality of the developers at work.
Once you first step outside onto that cliff though all the brutality and punishment from the past few minutes just ebbs away in that moment. There is no doubt the game is absolutely beautiful. Even despite the image of the broken wrecks of ships of years gone by littering the shore below there is something tranquil about standing on that cliff having just narrowly escaped death numerous times in a very short space of time. And the game is full of these moments. Sequences of adrenaline fuelled fight for your life moments followed by a peaceful calm once its all over. The developers really deserve a pat on the back for this accomplishment. When you’re relishing every peaceful moment and yet never feeling like the action draws on overlong its clear that the game’s pacing is spot on.
Plotwise the story isn’t the greatest but it does serve its purpose well. A huge complex mystery is not what the developers were going for here. The real story is that of Lara herself. Watching her subtly shift into an entirely different person over the course of the story is the real heart of the game. The game is packed with key moments that serve to shape her into the survivor she needs to be to make it out alive. Her first hunt where she is starving and forces herself to kill a deer. Her first kill while defending herself from a lecherous attacker. Every moment serves to further mould her into a warrior. It is a shame that the supporting cast are nowhere near as interesting. However a couple of them did show some promise. In the end however they just aren’t important and it does seem like the story was written with that in mind.
One character I would like to give special mention to is Conrad Roth. Everyone else is certainly forgettable but this guy was Lara’s mentor and teacher and so her exchanges with him have a pretty big impact on her evolution throughout the story. You do get some insight into how long the pair have known each other with Roth having been a close friend of Lara’s father and having been a big part of her life from an early age which makes it all the more important in Lara’s character arc (SPOILERS!) when Roth dies to save her life.
The one person Lara has depended on to have her back all her life is now gone. This is a key moment in her evolution as it now means she is the only person looking out for herself from this point forward and it shows as she moves forward from this point. At the beginning of the game during gunplay Lara would plead with her attackers before being forced to defend herself, trying to distance herself from the horror of taking their lives. As time wears on though her voice becomes much more aggressive and threatening showing that the vulnerable 21 year old student from the beginning of the game is beginning to lose herself to the merciless killer now unleashed.
Moving onto the gameplay side of things Crystal Dynamics have done a superb job of updating the combat and traversal gameplay. Having played Tomb Raider: Underworld not too long ago I found myself thankful they chose to get rid of the auto aim combat from that game and made it very similar to Uncharted’s. The previous system felt very dated to me and the new system was a welcome change in my eyes. One nitpick I would point out with the combat is the kind of conflict it has with Lara’s character during the early parts of the story. Should one get the weapon execution upgrades early on it seems rather jarring when one minute Lara is concerned about killing and the next minute shredding a man point blank with an assault rifle burst.
Traversing the island of Yamatai is itself a joy as well. The setting is crafted to perfection with ancient Japanese architecture dotting the landscape juxtaposed with the mysterious inhabitants makeshift villages and camps to create an eerie yet beautiful playground for the player. With plenty of hidden collectibles all over the island along with hundreds of absolutely beautiful vistas you’ll find yourself poking through every nook and cranny just to find one more document or relic or maybe just taking a minute to look out at the ocean from atop a mountain. It really is that incredibly gorgeous. The upgrade system itself is also quite well done. At no point does Lara feel over or underpowered with weapon mods and skill upgrades popping up throughout the game at the perfect times, a testament again to the developers incredible attention to pacing.
In the end Lara’s origin story was a resounding success. This reboot has breathed new life into an aging franchise and completely reinvented one of gaming’s most beloved heroines. With plenty more adventures to be had I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of the new and improved Lara Croft. 9 horrible injuries out of 10.
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Okay so I’ve been a long-time fan of the Assassin’s Creed series having played through all the main titles multiple times. When Assassin’s Creed III was nearing release I was under the impression that it was to be the last game of the series and wrap up the present day plot that’s been a staple of the franchise since the beginning. Shows what I knew.
Spoiler warning to anyone who hasn’t finished Assassin’s Creed III but if you have you’ll know that things don’t wrap up in a nice little bow like I expected. Desmond Miles, the main character we’ve grown attached to over the 5 main games (or tolerated as the case may be with some people) sacrifices his life to save the world from the long impending solar flare and in doing so releases Juno; one of the First Civilisation who had managed to stay alive somehow in the device that Desmond needed to use. Which left the end pretty damn open for what I thought was going to be the end. The protagonist is dead and has released a godlike entity bent on reconquering the world from humans. And then the credits roll.
Which brings us onto the next game. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which, when I first read it made me pretty damn happy. Why? Pirates. Combining the awesome swordplay and naval combat the previous game had with the awesomeness of pirates is pretty much a dream come true. The gaming world isn’t exactly known for its multitude of AAA pirate games and considering how brilliantly done the naval combat was in Assassin’s Creed III, needless to say I’m definitely looking forward to this one.
So with that in mind let’s take a look at what we know so far.
We know its going to be set during the golden age of piracy around 1715 which interestingly marks the first time in the Assassin’s Creed series where the historical story actually takes place farther back in time than the previous game. Up until now we’ve gone from The Third Crusade to the Renaissance and then finally the American Revolution. This is the first time the series has taken a step backward in time and there is a reason why. Ubisoft have said that they want to tell the saga of the Kenway family (Connor Kenway being the protagonist of the previous game and his father Haytham being one of the main antagonists) and so have taken us a step further up the family tree for Assassin’s Creed IV.
Meet Captain Edward Kenway. Father to Haytham and grandfather to Connor. Pirate, privateer and most importantly: assassin. So far Edward has been described as a “brash,charismatic, reckless, cocky genius of a pirate” which combined with training from the Assassin Brotherhood makes him a particularly badass dude. One really intriguing piece of information released about him so far however is that, despite being in the Brotherhood, he is a pirate first and assassin second which makes him very different from the previous characters in the franchise who have all been pretty single minded in regards to their allegiance to the Assassin Brotherhood. Should be interesting to see where Edward’s loyalties will ultimately lie.
Of course Assassin’s Creed would be nothing without its share of real life history which means of course, real life pirates. Making appearances will be such famous pirates as Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Charles Vane who have all been confirmed with more still being kept under wraps.
On top of that we’ll also be seeing some famous pirate stories from history playing out as part of the game’s plot such as the marooning of Charles Vane as well as the wreckage of the Spanish Armada among many others which haven’t yet been spoken about.
Of course this isn’t a movie we’re talking about here so of course everyone wants to know about the gameplay. So far we know that the dual wielding from Assassin’s Creed III will return with a bit more polish (dual wielding swords? yes please) but this time with Edward being able to carry 4 pistols at once the gunplay has had a bit of an overhaul to allow better free aiming in combat, allowing Captain Kenway to chain 4 shots together in the heat of battle. Sounds like a pretty useful trick.
And of course the good Captain would be nothing without his ship. The Jackdaw is apparently Edward’s “Millennium Falcon” (although as a gamer the comparison to Shepard and the Normandy from the Mass Effect series is immediately apparent) and like the Aquila from the previous game can be upgraded throughout the story, adding a few new bells and whistles as the game progresses. However they’ve changed things slightly this time round. Rather than just spending cash to give your ship some new bling some of it will be coming from pillaging other vessels you find while sailing, allowing you plenty of opportunity to engage in the more fun aspects of playing pirate.
One thing that was lacking in the previous game’s naval battles was that only specific ships could be boarded as part of the game’s plot. For Black Flag however, boarding enemy ships is to be seamless and integrated into regular gameplay which should allow ship to ship combat to be much more dynamic and interesting. Do you keep your distance and fight cannon to cannon or close in and board the ship and try to take it that way? Plenty of options to keep things fresh.
Good thing too as roughly 40% of the game’s story is said to be spent on the ship. Not to mention all the side missions that take place out there as well. Rather than the occasional naval mission like in Assassin’s Creed III Edward will sometimes spend a long time on the Jackdaw and as such Ubisoft have had to make sure that the extended periods at sea don’t get boring.
To that end Ubisoft have employed developers from the Far Cry 3 team to populate the world with random events that keep you on your toes. Ranging from freak storms you either have to avoid or fight through to fights with other pirates or the Royal Navy as well as hidden treasures at the bottom of the ocean for which Edward will have to do a bit of 18th century scuba diving.
Much of the game is obviously going to take place on land however, which means plenty of free running about buildings and trees as we’ve come to expect from the series. This being the Caribbean though, cities will be a bit more sparse with 3 smaller towns having been confirmed thus far: Nassau, Kingston and Havana so plenty of opportunity to get chased across the rooftops like games past.
Of course it wouldn’t be Assassin’s Creed without the weird present day sci-fi twist and as such its all slated to return, sans Desmond which I talked about at the beginning. To get around the death of their main character Ubisoft have introduced a new one into the Animus: You. Yup. This time around the player is the main character during the present day. How this is going to work I don’t have any idea but what we do know is that the technology from the previous games that allowed people to view their ancestors memories has now advanced to the point where any person can access anyone’s memories, regardless of genetic link. To this end The Templars we have been battling since the start of the series have created “Abstergo Entertainment” basically turning the Animus into a really fancy games console for historical research purposes and guess who’s on the payroll? Should be interesting to see if they can pull this off well without losing sight of the cliffhanger left at the end of Assassin’s Creed III. I guess we’ll see come October.
So Sony have finally announced the Playstation 4. A surprise to no one I imagine considering the sheer amount of hype surrounding last night’s press event the last couple of weeks. Being a big Playstation fan I myself was quite eager to see what Sony’s new hardware was going to be capable of and so at 11pm I tuned in to the live stream from New York to see what the PS4 would have to offer.
First thing that came to mind? Wow. After a sizzle reel showing games past and present and a short intro to the evening we were treated to the first real details about the hardware.The PS4 is definitely packing some major power under the hood this time with an x86-64 8 core AMD Jaguar CPU and 8GB GDDR RAM. The description of it being like a supercharged PC was accurate indeed. We also got to hear from the CEO of Gaikai concerning their involvement with the new cloud gaming aspects the PS4 will have. No longer will we have to wait for a completed download before jumping into a game. According to Sony we’ll be able to play games as they’re downloading. Which if pulled off will certainly be pretty awesome.
Moving swiftly on Sony then showed off the new Dualshock 4 controller which also got some fancy new features of its own too. Most of the controller has remained the same as the Dualshock 3 but this time round it also has a touchpad in the centre, a speaker a below it and a lightbar on top for included Playstation Move functionality with the start and select buttons now combined into one options button located on the right of the touchpad. In the same position on the left we now have the share button, one of Sony’s novel new additions. At any point during gameplay one can hit the button and immediately upload screenshots, video or stream the game session just like that, everything happening in the background almost seamlessly. Should definitely make for a more dynamic social side to gaming.
With the hardware dealt with Sony then showed off some of the games the PS4 would have available at launch starting off with a charming little platformer called Knack. It gameplay looked half decent but the really impressive part was how the titular character was basically built out of hundreds and thousands of little pieces joined together with not a jot of frame rate loss, even when the little guy grew to the size of a house.
Next up was one of Sony’s favourite franchises to show off the power of their new hardware, Killzone, with the latest entry in the series Shadow Fall. The gameplay was pretty standard first person shooter material to be fair but the graphics? Well…see for yourselves.
Sooo yeah. It’s fucking pretty. Killzone’s always set a pretty high bar but Guerilla are really going all out on this one. Will be keeping an eye on this one for sure.
Next up to the plate was Drive Club by Evolution studios. Touted as the game the Motorstorm developer always wanted to make this was yet another astonishingly pretty game with ridiculously amounts of detail in the cars. Looks like Gran Turismo might have a new rival this year. Especially if Drive Club lives up to its tagline of proper team racing. Sucker Punch also made an appearance with a CG trailer for the next installment of the InFamous franchise titled Second Son. Should be interesting to see where they take it after how good InFamous 2 was.
At this point David Cage of Quantic Dream appeared to talk about emotion in games. Which was made 100% cooler when he showed off the graphics potential for the PS4 and how emotion could be conveyed in people’s faces without words. The results were impressive to say the least.
Jonathan Blow of Braid fame followed afterward, showing off his next indie masterpiece, The Witness, an open world puzzler that could prove to be even more mindfucky than Braid. Media Molecule also made their presence known with a demonstration of the new capabilities Move has to offer.
Moving over to the Japanese side we saw new offerings from both Capcom and Square-Enix with a tease of the next Final Fantasy to be shown at this year’s E3. Ubisoft followed next by showing off some new gameplay from Watch Dogs, now on PS3 and PS4, giving a live gameplay demo of what to expect from the upcoming open world shooter.
Nearing the end of the presentation we also got some surprise appearances from Blizzard who confirmed Diablo III for PS4 and Bungie who showed off new footage for Destiny which looked absolutely unreal.
…and then that was that. After all that we didn’t even get to have a look at the new hardware. Could be that Sony are holding that back for E3 and plan to steal the show then and just used to tonight to get the hype train started. And judging from the buzz around the internet I’d say they succeeded.
So to be fair I’ve actually had my Playstation Vita since Christmas and have messed about with it a few times before now but it wasn’t until today I actually decided to give it a proper shot. Having just lost my job I now have plenty more time for gaming (yay silver linings!) so this morning I set my sights on my Vita and Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale. I’ve already played a lot of Playstation All-Stars on my PS3 so I decided to look into how the Vita version holds up against the PS3 one and loaded it up. Since this was my first time actually playing the system properly I was pretty excited about seeing what the Vita itself could do as well.
So getting the obvious out of the way first I’ll say that the graphics are pretty fucking spectacular for a handheld. You can definitely tell the graphics were scaled down a bit during the port but when you’re actually playing there is almost no noticeable difference between the PS3 version and the Vita version of the game. Everything runs just as smoothly during gameplay so nothing important has been lost in the translation. Some background scenes have clearly been dumbed down a little however, but if you’re actually paying attention to the game as you’re playing you aren’t gonna notice little details like that…unless you’re like me of course and are intentionally looking for things to nitpick.
Finding the core gameplay perfectly intact I started playing around with the game trying to find any differences the Vita version has to offer, which were few and far between. The game is damn near identical to its big brother version in almost every way. The main thing that stuck out was the use of the touchscreen to pick up items, which, while fiddly was kinda necessary as there were no more buttons that could be used so I can see the reasoning behind that. The only other discernible difference was the menu layout. It wasn’t a complete revamp but everything was rearranged to better fit on the Vita’s smaller screen. Not a huge difference but definitely a nice thought on the developers part. I also like that even while playing the game you can zip back to the home screen, open another app and then go back with no progress lost which really helped when trophy hunting. (something I’ll mention later)
One thing that I thought was extremely well done in particular was the cross save feature. As long as one is signed into the playstation network while playing the game your save file is automatically synced between your Vita and PS3 so despite loading up my Vita version for the first time all my unlocks from the PS3 version were already there waiting for me. Admittedly it wasn’t perfect as all the customisations had been removed during the sync but even so the fact that I could be playing on my PS3 and then move to my Vita without losing any progress was pretty cool.
The main thing that irked me though is that despite the cross save feature, both versions of the game have separate trophy lists meaning that all the trophies I had previously obtained on the PS3 version required completing again for the Vita version. A small nitpick but valid. It basically means that in order to 100% the game on both consoles I have to run through each character’s story mode twice: once on the PS3 and once on the Vita but, as I alluded to previously, I was able to zip to the trophy list, check what I had to do and pop back into the game and set up a match to get it with almost zero lag unlike the PS3 which is quite slow when bringing up the XMB while playing a game. Made getting the easy trophies a whole lot quicker this time. Hopefully for future cross play games they allow players to carry trophies between versions as well as save files though since the trophy lists are exactly the same.
All in all the Playstation Vita is one hell of a gadget. Being able to run the same game on my PS3 and in the palm of my hand with almost no difference was pretty awesome. I see a lot of people complaining that the Vita library doesn’t have much going for it it yet but I’ve already got more games for it than I ever had for my PSP and I loved that thing. I can definitely say for sure that I’ll be diving into the rest of my Vita library as soon as possible. Well…maybe just one more match…
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So at the end of part 1 I left off having just accidentally massacred 47 civilians with white phosphorous. Which left me feeling pretty crappy about myself to say the least. The worst part was that, despite the other jarring events that the game had presented me with thus far having some element of choice involved such as choosing to rescue a CIA agent who had earlier saved my squad or a group of civilians who were being led away to be executed, I had no way change events here. Which I suppose makes sense. This was the defining moment for Walker as a character. The moment he sees the bodies, we see him break.
Moving forward its pretty clear that the events that just transpired have deeply affected him, despite outwardly appearing otherwise. Little things the developers threw in really brought this to light. The slight maliciousness hidden in his orders during firefights, the rising tension between the squad and most telling of all, the bloodlust that creeps into his voice when killing someone. It’s subtle at first but you start picking up that the events of the game thus far have had a profound effect on the 3 main characters as well as yourself.
Not long after that the team finally gets a chat with John Konrad, the commander of the Damned 33rd and one of the reasons Walker and his team were sent to Dubai. Upon finding the executed corpses of his command team Walker realises the truth: Konrad orchestrated it all. Far from being the honourable soldier Walker remembered saving his life, he had all but destroyed Dubai in a vain attempt to save it. Throughout the conversation with Konrad speaking to Walker through an old radio left nearby, it becomes immediately apparent that Konrad has also been broken by Dubai, his rationalisations appear barbaric and illogical, despite the complete calm in his voice. With Konrad now firmly cemented in Walker’s mind as the reason for the horror they have witnessed the team pushes on at his behest, ready to take him down. But not before Konrad decides to give Walker a test in an attempt to justify his actions:
Two men hanging from a bridge; one who stole a family’s water supply and the man sent to apprehend him, killing 5 others in the process. At this point Konrad asks you to judge these men and choose who is more guilty. My first thought was to not choose but this was quickly shot down quite literally by snipers placed on the roofs overlooking the road by Konrad who took potshots at Lugo and Adams when I hesitated. Feeling helpless and with no choice I chose to kill the killer upon which Konrad almost praises Walker for doing what needed to be done, attempting to provide reason for his madness.
Now more determined than ever to kill Konrad the team pushes forward and meets up agent Riggs; the partner of the CIA agent I had encountered previously who quickly explains their purpose in Dubai: to cover up the Damned 33rd’s defection and war crimes and prevent all out war with the US. To do this he planned to steal the only water supply in Dubai and let the entire 33rd die of thirst. Walker and the team quickly sign on to help and manage to get away with the only water tankers left in the entire city when Riggs shows his true motives. Knowing they aren’t getting away with the water he crashes the trucks and condemns the entire city to a slow death by dehydration to make sure no one lives to tell the tale of the 33rd’s actions. Walker, again finding himself the cause of even more destruction and anguish visibly deteriorates even further and upon finding Riggs pinned under the lead tanker I was once again given a choice: show mercy and put a bullet in him or leave him to burn. Despite being an outside force controlling Walker’s actions I could feel his hatred for what Riggs had made him do and left him there to rot.
With his humanity quickly ebbing away along with his sanity Walker continues onward, both losses conveyed by even more malice in his voice and infrequent hallucinations he rejoins with his team and sets out on his next objective: silence the omnipresent radioman and use his equipment to order an evacuation of Dubai before the entire city dies of thirst.
By this point the entire team are increasingly edgy and violent which shows during the attack on the radioman’s tower. After Lugo guns down the unarmed DJ the team takes to the skies in a nearby chopper and Walker decimates the forces of the 33rd with a mounted minigun, now revelling in the carnage. Upon their escape however Walker shoots down a pursuing chopper which crashes into the trio’s and sends them all back down to the harsh sands below.
Now separated from Lugo, Walker and Adams fight there way through even more of the Damned 33rd on their way to rescue him. At this point the subtle changes in Walker’s demeanour are much more apparent, every word he says laced with bloodthirsty venom. A change which caused myself as the player to also begin revelling in the carnage. A change I noticed not long after when the pair finally catch up to Lugo who, in his absence had been set upon by a mob of angry civilians looking for revenge after the water theft. By the time Walker and Adams arrive Lugo has been hanged and killed. With the mob now turning their attention to Adams and Walker once again the player is given a choice: attempt to scare off the mob or simply kill them. In the panic of the moment I quickly began shooting, paying no heed to any semblance of morality until those still alive had fled before realising that I wasn’t killing an enemy force or a real threat. These people were simply scared and angry; and they had every right to be. Thanks to Walker’s actions these people were going to die. A reality Walker was unwilling to accept, still determined to take down Konrad in a final attempt to justify it all.
Making a final assault on Konrad’s headquarters, Walker’s hallucinations are nearly constant, images of hell and purgatory appearing again and again along with flashes of all the deaths on his hands including Lugo, who berates Walker, accusing him of being the reason he died before Walker guns him down as well leaving yet another dead soldier of the 33rd when the hallucination subsides. Hell bent on taking Konrad down Walker and Adams continue their fight through the last of the Damned 33rd till they’re pinned down and ordered to surrender. Walker attempts to do so in order to gain entrance but an enraged Adams shames Walker into running for the tower and makes his final stand alone.
Finding himself welcomed into Konrad’s tower by the surrender of the last of his men, Walker makes his way up the stairs and confronts the man himself painting a memorial of Walker’s massacre.
As the conversation moves forward however we realise things aren’t what they seem. How does Konrad know about the mother and child? It’s a very specific detail that Walker recalls, but how could Konrad know? Konrad then calmly asks what Walker thinks and Walker immediately places blame on Konrad who then reminds him that it was Walker’s orders that killed those people and says that someone should pay for his crimes before asking Walker “who’s it going to be?” and walking out onto the balcony with Walker following close behind.
Then everything comes crashing down.
The version of John Konrad Walker had been addressing disappeared and was replaced by long dead corpse. Konrad had been dead the entire time. As the scene unfolds we realise the horrible truth. Everything was a lie. “Konrad” then explains that everything that happened was because Walker simply couldn’t accept the truth in front of him. Ever since the civilian massacre Walker’s mind was broken. He simply couldn’t accept what he’d done and so created the perfect scapegoat in John Konrad. Walker tries to deny it but “Konrad” explains that Walker and his team could have left at any point, but Walker drove them forward, even to their deaths, revelling in the fantasy. The scene then flashes back over the events of the game showing their true nature; the radio Konrad spoke through was damaged and the hanging criminals were nothing but bones. It was all just window dressing to allow Walker to continue thinking himself the hero of the tale.
In the end “Konrad” tells Walker to accept his own actions and raises his gun telling Walker he will count to five and then shoot. Walker can either let Konrad shoot him or shoot himself, both options resulting in Walker’s suicide or alternatively Walker can shoot Konrad, denying the illusion but shattering it at the same time, leaving him alone with nothing but the truth.
“Do you feel like a hero yet?”
Having chosen the latter option Walker picks up Konrad’s radio and stops the looping broadcast that brought him there and orders the evacuation of Dubai as the camera pans over the ruined city before the credits roll.
After this we see the final epilogue of the game: a rescue squad of US soldiers entering the city and finding Walker sitting alone holding a shotgun and wearing Konrad’s jacket; a haunting image of an utterly broken man. As the soldiers try to talk Walker down the players are given one final choice: deny the truth to the bitter end and kill the rescue squad, staying in the ruins of Dubai to live out his fantasy or put down his gun and finally accept his actions.
Choosing to put down the gun I watch the final scene unfold, Walker climbing into the truck and leaving Dubai behind. One the soldiers casually remarks that they came across a lot of things while searching for him and asks Walker how he survived to which Walker gives a chilling but accurate reply:
“Who says I did?”
Despite leaving Dubai alive, Walker could hardly be described as a survivor. By the end of the game his mind is in tatters after everything he saw and did so his final line sums that up rather accurately. In the end his selfish desire to feel like a hero ultimately destroyed him. Walker and I tried to save a burning city but in the end we realised that we were the ones who burnt it.
Let me say this up front. This isn’t a review. This is a look back at one of the most eye-opening gaming experiences I have ever had. Despite having heard a lot of things about the game before this weekend, none of that prepared me for what I experienced over those 8 hours. Gonna have to agree with Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame and say that Spec Ops: The Line is “the most exciting thing to happen to video game narrative in fucking years.”
That definitely wasn’t my first impression however. Starting up the game it seemed like just another run of the mill military shooter. Basic but functional gunplay and a generic buddy movie feel about three ragtag soldiers getting up to some hijinks in the desert that would ultimately result in killing the bad guys, saving the good guys and going home big goddamn heroes.
Never have I been so wrong.
For a little while it did seem like my first impression was dead on. The casual banter between main characters Walker, Adams and Lugo leading up to the first encounter with the stereotypical faceless “insurgents” did nothing to shake that feeling. Was all shaping up to be just as I expected. Then things began to shift. It looked like the 33rd Battalion our heroes were sent to rescue had no intention of leaving. Then they started shooting. At us.
And down the rabbit hole we went.
Already things were breaking away from the norm like a freight train. Instead of the “America, Fuck Yeah!” attitude I had come to expect from; well…pretty much all modern military shooters, here I was gunning down wave after wave of American soldiers who had been committing god knows how many atrocities in the name of “keeping order”. Pushing forward and seeing people having been executed in cold blood, bodies piled high against the walls and rotting corpses hanging by their necks from street lamps, I as the player quickly decided that despite the little twist of the Americans being the bad guys for once and the pretty startling imagery, they were still just bad guys and, like plenty of other games before would just carry on mowing them down without a thought. Then the loading screens started messing with me.
I’ll say this. Whoever had the idea to throw in those guilt laced messages during loading times is a goddamn genius. An evil, utterly sadistic genius. No sooner had I gotten into the groove of carving my way through the bad guys like usual that a loading screen popped up with this message at the bottom:
“Are you having fun yet?”
That one line immediately chilled me to the bone. Not once during all my years of gaming have I ever been forced to think about how killing people in games has seemed fun and inconsequential all these years. It didn’t end there either. Still soldiering on things like “You are still a good person.” and “To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless.” began to make an appearance. I was pretty unnerved by this point to say the least. Then it all came to a head in chapter 8.
The route forward was blocked by an entire camp of 33rd troops. The squad’s only way forward was through the use of a mortar filled with white phosphorous rounds. Despite the squad’s objections our “hero”, Captain Walker orders the bombardment, obliterating the forces entrenched below until nothing is left but ash. Moving through the remains of the enemy camp the horror was hard to ignore. Half burned bodies littering the ground. Buildings in flames. The occasional shell shocked trooper walking in a daze, his flesh charred and scorched as he falls to the ground. And then to cap it off one last, lone survivor, his face burned beyond recognition, simply asking “Why?” After Walker’s cold retort of “You brought this on yourself.” the soldier manages to utter one last sentence before passing:
“But we were helping…”
A chill creeping up my spine the squad moves into the trench at the end of the area and I see the true fruits of my labour. Piles of charred corpses lining the walls. Not soldiers but civilians. The very people Walker has his team had been trying to save. Dead by his hand. By MY hand. I, like Walker could have stopped at any time. He chose to keep moving forward instead of calling in the cavalry like he was supposed to. I could have simply put the controller down. But instead we both pushed on and this was our reward.
Sitting dead centre amongst the carnage, a mother cradling her child in their final moments. Burned alive so quickly they never even fell. A terrifying image that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Not just because of the sheer brutality of the scene. But because I DID IT. Walker may be the character the narrative deems responsible, but I was the one who pulled the trigger. As the scene ends I try to push the images out of my mind and continue the game but evidently the game had other ideas. It had to get one last shot at me before letting me move on. One last twist of the knife as I waited for the game to load the next area:
“Do you feel like a hero yet?”
Finally got to take Dead Space 3 for a spin today. Been a long time fan of the series since the first game so I was pretty psyched when I saw the demo was out. First and foremost of note is that if, like me you’ve played Dead Space before you’ll immediately find yourself right at home. All the fundamentals are still there: horrible aliens, dismembering limbs and horrible death scenes. All of which I experienced within the first 5 minutes. Nothing new there then.
So after loading up the demo and getting control of the series’ stalwart hero Isaac Clarke, I set off wandering through the surrounding blizzard. One thing I noticed straight off was that since some of the game does take place outside in the daylight instead of the dark, claustrophobic corridors of the Ishimura and the Sprawl like the previous games, Visceral Games have gone to great lengths to make sure the ominous atmosphere the games are known for is kept largely intact and to achieve this they really upped the ante on the sound production. From the outset the wind was screaming, the snow was beating down and all I could concentrate on was the extremely unsettling musical score and the alien screeches around me which, in the middle of a blizzard where I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me was pretty damn unsettling.
As I expected it wasn’t long before I ran into my first enemy and this time the Necromorphs just LOVE jumping out from under the snow to gnaw on your face. Which is exactly what this ugly mug did. As I’ve done plenty of times before I quickly severed his arms to stop him from slicing me into bits after which he keeled over and I thought that was that when something happened I was not expecting. The little asshat’s torso suddenly exploded and 3 tentacles popped out. Well played guys. So here I was thinking it was just gonna be the same strategy for the basic guys while this squid on legs is stabbing me full of holes. Lesson learned.
After reloading it was mostly standard Dead Space fare for a bit, just now making sure that when I killed things they didn’t explode into half cthulu monstrosities. After a couple of QTE’s later the blizzard cleared and I got my first real glimpse at the amazing graphics the game had to offer.
God damn this game is pretty. I actually stopped just to look at this for a minute it was that impressive. The serene peaceful feeling I got contrasted quite nicely with the previous few minutes of OH GOD NO GET OFF ME YOU TENTACLED BASTARD!…anyway moving on I had my first meeting with Carver, the character who people will be playing as in the Co-op campaign alongside Isaac. The dude didn’t stick around long however which was unfortunate as that was when the first mini-boss decided to make an appearance. Thankfully it had big glowing tentacles on its back that screamed “shoot here to win” so after making quick work of it I pressed on and had my first run in with the human enemies of Dead Space 3.
In contrast to the previous games DS3 now includes 3 way fights with some regular human enemies also hunting you as well as the regular alien hordes players are used to. Made for an interesting dynamic and a nice change of pace having to switch from dismembering aliens to taking cover and going for headshots. Was also pretty entertaining just sitting back and watching said shooty people get stabbed in the face.
After a couple of areas like this I moved into the final area of the demo which involved my first proper boss battle against… *insert dramatic dun dun dun music here* a giant drill. Well that was unexpected. After dislodging said drill from the gate it was blocking it quickly went postal and started trying to tear me to ribbons. That’s the thanks I get for freeing captive mining equipment I guess. After avoiding becoming mince and destroying the drill while simultaneously fending off weird emo looking aliens that tried to eat me (or hug me it was hard to tell as they got sucked into the drill right afterwards) I finally emerged at the end point of the demo and met up with Carver right before this guy appeared and squished Isaac with a tentacle the size of a tree trunk.
So yeah…that happened.
After that rather abrupt ending to my demo session a trailer for the game played and that was that. All in all the game was pretty much what I expected with a few unexpected surprises thrown in. Didn’t get much of a chance to mess with the new weapon crafting feature but should be interesting to see what kind of weird combinations people come up with once the full game is out. Everything that was great about the first two games was still intact and more polished than ever so I’ve no doubt the full game will be everything it promises to be.
As for the demo I give it 4 dismembered limbs out of five cos fuck your regular scoring systems. Roll on February 8th!
Sooo…it’s 1am and my mind’s pretty blank but I wanna at least get something in before I go to sleep so rather than make a half assed attempt to churn out some random musings about the nature of life itself or something equally profound and complicated I think I shall just post something that looks fucking amazing instead. 4 simple words. FIREFLY MEETS DOCTOR WHO. Two of my all time favourite TV love affairs in one ridiculously awesome painting. Seriously fangasming all over this thing.
Full credit to John Sumrow who is a fantastic artist and one of my new favourite people for painting this absolute masterpiece and who you should all check out. Like, right now. Because of reasons.