Killing is
May 27
Posted by Ben at 02:23

I have written some pretentious and nobby stuff in my life, I try to reign in a lot of it, especially when talking about videogames, but here I am, about to write a think piece about Uncharted 4, Doom, and Spec Ops The Line, which came out years ago.

Spec Ops The Line wasnít a classic game, it was a bit dull, not actually all that much fun to play. It gets lauded, rightly, for what it does in terms of its narrative and the themes it examines. Set in Dubai, you play as Walker, leader of a special forces team sent it to Dubai to check for survivors after a biblical level sandstorm. What you find is that the 33rd, a US Army force sent to help, is in the midst of a civil war with a faction of Dubaiís residents for control of the city. Initially youíre drawn in to conflict with the insurgents, then the 33rd, then the CIA get involved, itís all very confusing. What the game is really about though is choice, Walker could walk away at any time, report back what heís found, instead he descends deeper and deeper in to Dubai, getting more and more blood on his hands as he does

I think Spec Ops The Line was a fascinating game, not so much the greater finger pointing theme of ďyou, player, you always had a choice too! Why didnít you turn the game off?!Ē It was bullshit when Bioshock did it, great twist that it was, and itís bullshit here. Itís thematically interesting, but the player can just shrug ďI carried on playing because itís a gameĒ. Anyway, itís not that I wanted to talk about, itís actually the smaller details, the examinations on the ingrained tropes of video games. You see Iíve been reading ĎKilling is Harmlessí, a long-form criticism of Spec Ops by Brendan Keogh, and it does a really good job of shining a spotlight on some of the nuance of Spec Ops and Walkerís capitulation. Some of it is small things like language and tone changing; rather than calm and clinical as in the early stages, eventually combat is soundtracked by swearing and ferocity. Itís a thought youíre going to have to hold on to because for this point to make sense I need to go back to Uncharted

The Uncharted series has long had its duality used as a criticism. While heís out on his adventures throwing out quips, Drake is also killing hundreds and hundreds of people. Rarely is he actually defending himself from harm, heís putting himself in harmís way, he could just walk away. Early on in Uncharted 2 Drake is handed a tranquiliser gun because of his reticence to kill people. 10 minutes later he pulls a guy off a roof to his death while Drakeís partner jokes about it. You never get the impression Drake, nor Uncharted itself, cares about these deaths, they donít stay with him. At least in Gears of War youíre at war with leathery monsters, in Uncharted youíre gunning down people hired to stop people like you from stealing shit.

Uncharted is what Uncharted is, and with Uncharted 4 it feels like Naughty Dog have tried to address it. For the first couple of hours gunplay is fairly minimal, and when it does occur itís not Nate behind the trigger, initially at least. Smart, especially how they pitch Nate once we get up to present day. Even when it does kick off youíre encouraged to be stealthy, thereís tall grass to hide in and take people down, and a lengthy section where youíre in combat but trying to remain unseen. Apart from a guy I pulled from a roof to his death, I think without any sort of joke this time, I just chose not to kill people. That doesnít last long though, eventually youíre back to killing people for trying to stop you from stealing stuff. The juxtaposition of the gunplay and tone of Uncharted is kind of redundant, as I said, Uncharted is what Uncharted is, what actually gave me pause for thought was a little more hands on.

Thereís a point in Spec Ops: The Line, something that Killing is Harmless focused on, where Walkerís melee takedowns have gone from knocking people out to beating a man so hard and so often he caves in his skull. Itís brutal and unnecessary. Thereís a point in Uncharted 4 where Drake lands one or two punches too many during his own melee takedown that reminded me of that scene. Similarly, after a while, it dawned on me that all those stealth attacks, the ones where Iíd been choking people out to put them to sleep, were accompanied by a Ďsnappingí sound. Now, maybe thatís just their eyes shutting so fast that you can actually hear it, but I think, think, that Drake might be snapping their necks for no reason other than brevity. That realisation struck me, in amongst this gun fight, when people are clearing away the corpses, it turns out someone, rather than cleanly shoot his enemies, was lurking in the grass to snap their necks. Itís terrifying and ferocious

There were points, and this is where I get a bit nobby, early on in Uncharted 4 where I started to wonder if I was done with games like this. Not with video game levels of killing, I played through Space Marine again the other week, more the violence without consequence. I wondered if my brain had been engaged too much to just turn it off again, if Uncharted was doomed because in every other way it feels more human than most other popcorn blockbusters. That the grounding put it place to make Drake feel human, a likable everyman surrounded by likable people like you, a man who can return home to a normal job with a studious wife, a happy, normal life, whether that extra connection to reality compared to something like Space Marine, means that it doesnít have as much room to just be a video game.

Fortunately it seems not, but I think we may be reaching the point where games like Uncharted have to solve their contradiction of violence and personality. I want to stress, itís not the violence itself thatís the issue. Iíve been playing Doom alongside Uncharted 4 and I love it, it may well end up being my game of the year. I love it for the absolute nonsense of it. Thereís a moment early on where the narrative is being set and Doom guy literally tosses it away, he, and you, donít need it. I donít want every game to be like Doom, Doomís refreshing because of what itís not, but it does highlight why the (I got this far without using it) ludonarrative dissonance caused by chatty nice drake ruthlessly breaking the necks of people who donít know heís there is a problem but Stevie Space Marine (actually called Titus) and Doom Guy killing monsters, orcs and the corrupted isnít. To borrow a term from Killing is Harmless, those enemies are never anything more than Ďothersí, theyíre never anything more than targets, the very thing that makes Uncharted stand out adds a dimension to the world that raises an eyebrow. Not everyone will care, but I think weíre starting to see this problem get addressed, either weíll have better justifications for the violence, ways around it, or weíll have more things like Doom
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Posted by Ben at 16:52
We reviewed Ride on the PS4, it's a decent game. It does a good job building the layers between skilled and veteran, I wasn't great at it and it's still probably my most bruising youtube experience, but don't let that taint your (or my) view of the game

Ride 2 is getting a physical, and digital, release in the autumn for the PS4 and Xbox One

PQube promise that "The major innovation in the second edition of RIDE is the relationship between the rider and motorcycle, now more connected than ever and directly integrated in the game in the career mode." I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I did have some issue with feeling like the bikes caught me by surprise. Anyway, the launch trailer is below if you like stylised graphics and a logo

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Posted by Ben at 16:09
I don't know about you but whenever I'm asked about by top 10 games, films, albums, I always feel there's something I love that I'm forgetting. Something unusual, something I'm not going to go back to day after day, well Twinkle Star Sprites is one of those games

Originally released on the Neo Geo, I first encountered Twinkle Star Sprites om the Dreamcast, and it's brilliant.

Take a vs puzzle game, the kind where you doing well means your opponent's screen gets filled with death, only its a character lead shoot em up

Twinkle Star Sprites was/is a fantastic game, and it's now up on Steam for £5.59
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Just a game of cards
May 24
Posted by Duane at 15:42

Thanks to the remote play functionality that exists on the Sony hardware I've found myself returning to Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XIV. I found GAME selling both A Realm Reborn and Heavensward cheap on PS4 and as I'd missed the chance to upgrade my PS3 ARR for free I took the chance to snap it up.

The problem I've mostly been having though is that my other half is sinking just as much time into the MMO that she plays, Lord of the Rings Online, that I have been FFXIV, but because hers is strictly tied to the PC I've been, as mentioned, using my Vita to go to Eorzea thanks to Remote Play.

I'm not actually all that fussed about this as, surprisingly enough, FFXIV features a hell of alot of single player content, its mostly fetch quests and the like but they're pleasent enough to play through on the handheld and the controls are mapped really rather well.

Where the game has sunk its teeth in most though is its version of Final Fantasy VII's Golden Saucer. Each day you can enter the "Mini Cactpot" lottery, essentially a scratch card. You can purchase 3 a day and this resets at 4pm, so I'll go over to the Golden Saucer, try and win a few extra MGP (which can only be spend at the Golden Saucer) via playing this and then maybe partake in a couple of the events that pop up and definetly get some Triple Triad going, the music to which I have engraved on my brain.

Its gotten to a point now that I have a seperate costume on my hotbar just for my trips to the Golden Saucer, its a cool tuxedo affair, minus the bottoms, which you can see in the image above.
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Gameplay Video
May 23
Posted by Ben at 16:39

I posted the review yesterday, so perhaps a little odd putting up the 'First Play' video afterwards, but I didn't want to put something up until I understood Wolflame

I like Astro Port's games, and Wolflame is no different. It's incredibly retro, very, very uncomplicated, but that's its charm.

The video is really just showing off the gameplay, and a few of the systems in the game. I don't get too far in, because I'm not very good at Wolflame, but it should give you an idea of what the game is

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Posted by Ben at 16:32
and presumably the rest of Europe, it doesn't say in the email.

The UK though is getting a PS4 retail release of Anima: Gate of Memories on the 4th of June

Based on the trailer, posted below, Anima: Gate of Memories reminds me of a slower Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Actually, if I'm being honest, and maybe a little obscure, particularly with the 2d scenes, it reminds me of El Shaddai

It's actually described in the press release as an action rpg, so presumably there's more going on that the trailer shows. At the very least it looks interesting, if it has a combat system anywhere close to the likes of Bayonetta it'll be well worth keeping an eye on. It's being released at a budget price too, with Shopto listing it at around the £17 mark

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May 22
Posted by Ben at 08:22

Weíve covered a few Astro Port games now, and they all have a few things in common. They all feature some great, simple gameplay ideas, and theyíre all fantastically retro. Wolflame doesnít have the lovable kitsch of a Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser, but it may well be a better game.

Wolflame reminds me of being a kid in my local youth club, itís that era of shoot em up, pre-bullet hell where the only gimmick of note are your options. Travel up the screen, blast everything, pick up stars, occasionally drop a bomb, there was nothing complicated about those shooters, and thereís not a lot complicated about Wolflame. You travel up the screen, blasting away at enemy ships and buildings, picking up options, collecting stars for points, until you reach the boss, kill it and finish the level.

As mentioned Wolflame isnít ever a bullet hell shooter, but itís undoubtedly where the difficulty comes in. Wolflame suffers the way a lot of shooters do, in amongst all your outgoing fire, all the explosions of decimated ships, itís hard to pick out the single shot thatís inevitably going to kill you. Itís not helped that a lot of enemies have a habit of holding on to their bullet before pinging it at you, by which point your focus has drifted away from them. Itís a smart attack, but itís slightly frustrating losing a life to the only bullet on the screen. There is some more precise dodging later on, particularly if youíre playing on a harder difficulty.

At various points through the levels thereís support ships you can shoot down that will drop Ďoptionsí. The options will be one of 3 types, leave them to float around a while and theyíll change to another one. Theyíll either attach to the left or right side of your ship depending on the arrow on their icon. You can have different types on either side, and with each one you pick up you gain a level for that side. Thereís a charged blast, a homing attack, and lock-on lasers. Iíll be honest, getting level 5 lock-on lasers is pretty much letting the game play itself itís so powerful, so long as you keep an eye out for stray bullets.

For those chasing a high score the options are key here too. Once you get one of your option sides to the max level, picking one up will instead reward you with a chunk of points. Destroying certain buildings will result in gold stars, managing to get to the end of the level without dying will result in a points bonus.

Probably the biggest obstacle for the high score chasers is the gameís length. Wolflame has 10 levels, all a decent length, all with the occasional checkpoint if you die. Itís a fairly difficult game, you can continue your way through it, at least on easy, and clever use of save states might help you with the rest. Dying does mean youíre put back a bit and stripped of your pickups, but thereís a fair chance the next one you get will restore, or partially restore what you had. Not always though, Iím not sure why it differs, but being stripped back to your basic level certainly does increase the difficulty for a while.

Wolflame is good. It feels achingly retro, but at no point does it feel throwaway or spent. Itís just about difficult enough to engage the hardcore, lengthy enough that us shooter tourists will have something to get out teeth in. Itís a chunky, crunchy kind of a game, itís not especially flashy, beyond just being a good game thereís nothing unique to entice you, but thereís really very little to fault.
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Posted by Ben at 04:42
Have you ever dreamed of working in a convenience store? No, of course you haven't, why would you, but if you wanted to try out a bright, colourful version of working in a shop Circle have you covered with Conveni Dream

Conveni Dream is by Arc System Works and looks not unlike the kind of themed management games Kairosoft (Game Dev Story etc) put out

We don't have a price yet, and the European date is currently 'TBD', we've asked, and there's no price, but Circle tend to price their 3DS eshop games fairly low. For the folks over in the Americas, you'll be able to download Conveni Dream on the 26th May

trailer below

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Posted by Ben at 04:26
Deep Silver is publishing King of Fighters 14 here in Europe, and have announced that the game will be released on the 26th August

After what can only be described as a dreadful reveal, King of Fighters 14 has won people around. As jarring as its visuals initially were, it does look like it plays like a KoF game

There's a trailer below, I'm a little fighting game'd out, but god damn I love some King of Fighters

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May 17
Posted by James at 16:26

Unlike Mark, I havenít really been playing anything that feels particularly substantial lately, instead just picking up whatever device I come across and settling for whichever game I feel like playing. But hey, that makes for a more unexpected opportunity to look at something different, as one of the games I found myself playing the most happened to be the smartphone port of Dragon Quest V of all things.

Itís easy to write off console-to-smartphone ports on the basis of a few developers that have got it horribly wrong. Take Final Fantasy VII for example. Rather than rethink the game for touch, the developers plonked a bunch of transparent on-screen virtual buttons over the screen to replace the inputs of a PlayStation controller. It's a terrible substitute.

Dragon Quest V, on the other hand, gets it right. Its heritage as a port of the DS remake of the PS2 remake of the Super Famicom original makes it an easy transition to the smartphone format. Where the DS game tried using both screens to create a single towering image, on a single display the gap in between is eliminated.

What results is a natural fit: Just like how you interact with the majority of smartphone apps - phone held in portrait orientation, one thumb over the screen - this game is just a hand's clutch away.

So you can play Dragon Quest V one-handed now. Better still, there are no virtual controller buttons littering this game's interface. Instead, the developers have designed and programmed what I like to call ďsmart buttonsĒ Ė iconographic buttons that donít substitute for buttons to drive a controller-driven interface. Rather they accept direct input that's translated directly into the game itself.

For instance, moving your character is as easy as sliding your thumb about the screen wherever you like. A single tap performs context sensitive actions like starting conversations with locals in towns and advancing text in battle.

We spend a lot of time navigating menus in RPGs, making it something that needs to be as frictionless as possible, particularly so when it comes to a shift in interface paradigms. Previous versions of Dragon Quest V had you use the controller to move a cursor between different menu options, listed within windows.

Rather than utilise on-screen controller buttons to navigate the same aforementioned button-driven interface, Arte Piazza have taken a touch-first approach to navigating the traditional Dragon Quest RPG menu.

Here, every selectable option is displayed as a large button, making up a grid of four or so options at a time. Like the navigation controls, itís all accessible to a single thumb, so itís just a case of tapping the option you want, then tapping what you want to do with it. Think of it like the bottom screen in the DS Pokťmon games, only it extends from battle to every facet of micromanagement within the game.

The title to this piece is a big giveaway for what I'm about to write here, but Arte Piazza's reworking of controls and interface really do make this 24-year old RPG effortlessly easy to play on a small slab of metal and glass in 2016.

No doubt part of the game's success will be down to how the DS version from which it was based is such a natural fit. In addition to the vertical orientation of the graphics, your thumb only ever needs reach the ďbottomĒ half the screen, ensuring it doesn't obscure the action.

But to point to the DS remake would be to belittle this versionís achievements. After all, the DS version didnít support touch input, or carry a touch-friendly interface at all outside of a single minigame.

With Dragon Quest V on the smartphone, Arte Piazza have created an adaptation that should be applauded, an adaptation of a traditional console role playing game that can be effortlessly played with one hand on a device nearly everyone owns today.
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