Long Time, No See

It’s been two months since I last updated this blog. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to. Believe me, updating this is one thing I really do want to do, however, I finish university on May 7th, and that is consuming my time at the moment, understandably. Along with having very little time to update, I am saving up to move down to London with my other half at the moment, which is eating into my gaming fund.

I just thought I would take this opportunity to do a quick update about where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to, and my general gaming ponderings at the moment.

This Christmas just gone wasn’t a heavily gaming based one for a change. My parents bought me a PS Vita, which I absolutely love, but due to the financial situation I’ve only been able to download the PS+ games; I don’t actually own a physical copy of a PS Vita game yet. I’m not even sure which ones to buy to be honest, because I’ve just been sucked in by all the PS Store sales, so I have Spelunky and Hotline Miami that I’ve actually purchased. Oh, and FFIX, but I just couldn’t resist the Square Enix sale. Ironic that the PS Vita Slim is announced just as I get the original, but to be perfectly honest, I’m glad I’ve got the original. The Slim doesn’t really appear to add anything else, aside from £’s.

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Aside from that, my gaming time has been very scarce. Lightning Returns has been released, and I have to say I’m quite glad I don’t have time for it at the moment, because it looks terrible. It’s almost like Square Enix have thrown away everything that made Final Fantasy good. I can’t believe they’ve taken such a bad character and made her the focal point of a terrible trilogy. It’s received some terrible reviews from the public and the critics. All I can say is, bring on FFX/X-2 HD next month.

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I’m still waiting for Bravely Default to drop in price, but again, I probably won’t be getting hold of this until May time. Bravely Default looks to be the JRPG of the year so far, but it’s early days.

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That’s it from me for now. As I said, May 7th is my final deadline, and I’m optimistic I’m going to graduate my Journalism course with at the very least a 2:1. It’s been a tough three years, and I’ve neglected this blog a lot in favour of my degree, but I hope that what I’ve learnt I will be able to transfer to here, and start making this blog as great as I want it to be. If you want to keep up to date with what I’m doing/ranting about until I return in May, then follow me on Twitter @Debus42. Is there anything you want me to write about upon my return? Let me know in the comments. I’ll try to post before then, but I can’t promise anything.

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Ponderings on DmC

I’ve gone back to playing Dmc over the past couple of days. I kind of lost my motivation for playing any games after finishing Ni No Kuni. JRPGs always really take it out of me, and it’s like I need to have a cooling off period before I can really get back into any games at all.

Anyway, before DmC even came out I was still sitting firmly on the fence with it. It received some good reviews, and a reboot is without doubt exactly what the series needed. However, I get the feeling that it’s swayed a little bit too much away from the original concept. I can be quite fussy when it comes to my games at times.

My main issue with the game is this; I don’t think it knows what it wants to be. It’s very highly stylised, but it’s missing some of the charm of the original. I know it’s a reboot, but it’s still got the same characters, and the same basic story elements to it. It just feels like they wanted to make something so very different that they lost the very essence of what Devil May Cry is all about. The missions feel really short to me, and it all seems a bit random and disjointed. The story is very basic, I think, but it also feels so rushed that you don’t really know what’s going on sometimes.

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Boss battles are decent, but a little inconsistent and sometimes a bit too weird

I don’t find DmC to be as creepy as the original series, and I can’t put my finger on why that is. It appears to be focusing a lot more on the grotesque rather than the eerie. I’ve only faced a handful of bosses, and even those weren’t exactly challenging, they were more an excuse to show off some of the grotesque character models and the highly stylised theme they were going for.

I do have to say in its defence that I think the battle gameplay is far more user-friendly than it ever was in the past. I’m not one to go for combos in Devil May Cry, I much prefer to just bash whatever buttons I feel like, and if it looks cool and gets me a decent battle rank, then even better. The amount of weapons at your disposal help this a lot actually, and the ways enemies respond to these weapons is interesting as well. Certain enemies can only be defeated with ‘angel’ weapons, and the same goes for those who can only be defeated by ‘demon’ weapons. Both styles have their merits in battle, and it really does encourage you to shake things up in order to get the best score.

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Battles are always fun when you can experiment with so many weapon combinations

In all honesty, I do like DmC, I just don’t love it. I reach the end of a mission and find myself thinking ‘Was that it?’ and I find myself not really caring about the characters, as well as feeling as though the story is in such a hurry to progress I never really get to delve into the details of what is going on, and why. Dante is not a likeable character, but I can deal with that. It’s an action game, but even the best action games need a better thread of plot. I can only hope that the ending ties all the loose ends up, and maybe will encourage me to invest in DLC.

Bioshock Infinite Review – Xbox 360

Creepy little girls with dirty needles, crazy drug addicts and humongous deep sea divers. If any of these ring a bell, then you’re most certainly a fan of the Bioshock series, a well established title set in a dystopian city under the sea. Many gamers will have fond memories of the twists and turns of this underwater city, and all the crazy characters that came with it. Fast forward to the third instalment however, and we have been taken far away from the city of Rapture that we have grown to love and cherish, and instead have been thrust in the opposite direction towards the floating city of Columbia. A bold move for any developer, but Columbia has its own magic, and Bioshock Infinite has earned the right to sit next to its predecessors in the hearts of its loyal fan base.

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Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt

The story of Bioshock Infinite is, on face value, a simple one. A mysterious man named Booker DeWitt has been challenged to bring back Elizabeth, a girl who has been locked away in Columbia, and in return all of his debts will be wiped clean. What are these debts? Well that’s never really made clear, but for a human life to wipe that away, it must be a pretty big one.

Naturally, there’s a catch. Elizabeth isn’t just any ordinary girl; she’s locked in a tower in the floating city of Columbia, and as if that wasn’t hard enough, she’s protected by a giant mechanical creature, Songbird, who bears a slight resemblance to a well-known character from the original. Naturally Elizabeth is oblivious to the ways of the world, knowing only what is inside her cage, so when Booker removes her from the comfort of her solitude, it’s like taking a small child on a magical trip to the zoo. Everything starts to get a little bit more complicated from then on, and nothing more can really be said without spoiling some of the many twists and turns Infinite puts you through on your journey through Columbia.

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Elizabeth’s kind, naive heart is one of the most endearing parts of her character

A floating city? Absurd

Anyone who has played the original Bioshock games will remember plasmids; the giant potion bottles that you inject yourself with to gain new powers. Opting for a less vicious way of digesting them, Infinite goes for the drinking option, as opposed to the painful needle injection. However, they are no longer called plasmids, but instead are called Vigors. There is very little difference between the two except the name, so the basic concept remains the same. Down a vigor, and shoot fireballs from your hands, simple. There are eight vigors in total, each with their own brutal abilities that are useful on different enemy types. The basic rules of gaming apply though; hit a turret with electricity and it will short-circuit. Hit a human with fire, and watch them burn.

The only negative thing about these vigors is that they are not as actively used by your enemies as you would expect. There are a few enemies that use similar vigors, but nothing like how the plasmids were used in Bioshock by the demented splicers. Naturally they are easily upgraded at the expense of a few golden eagles,Columbia’s currency, and this adds either a longer duration to the abilities, or more damage.

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The powers of vigors soon take shape on your flesh

When you finally collect Elizabeth is when the fun really starts. Players of games like Resident Evil 4 will know the pain of having to escort a delicate young girl around, asking her to hide whenever danger comes close, but Elizabeth is a lot more clever than this; Elizabeth can think for herself, and is not a hindrance to your journey at all. If anything, Elizabeth is there to protect you, running around and finding salts, ammo and health for you when you’re starting to run low during battle. She even pries into your empty wallet and throws money at you in pity, seeing your sad eyes when stood at a vending machine. As an AI, Elizabeth is fantastic, and far from the charity case some players may be used to running around with in similar games. Her skills know almost no bounds, and without giving anything away, Elizabeth will be saving you in many sticky situations, just as much as you’re trying to saving her.

Of course it’s not just about vigors, as it wouldn’t be complete without a hefty arsenal of weapons at your disposal too. Each weapon is obviously upgradable through the use of the vending machines scattered around the city, blessing you with a bigger clip size, less recoil or simply more damage. Whether your weapon of choice is the itchy trigger finger machine gun, or the cool and calm sniper rifle, there is something for everyone here. Some weapons do hefty damage, such as the RPG, but others deal with less challenging enemies and for that you can easily use the pistol. The point is, there are plenty to choose from, and each go well with the various different vigors that can be utilised throughout the game.

In terms of new enemies, Infinite has tried its best to keep the enemy concepts familiar, but at the same time have gone for completely new character models. The most recognisable enemy will be the Handyman, bearing a striking resemblance to the much-loved Big Daddy. A giant mechanical man, fused with human flesh, the Handyman packs a hefty punch, but you don’t actually see that many of them during your time in Columbia. A far cry from the two or three Big Daddies per level in Bioshock, the Handymen only appear a handful of times throughout the entire game. This is perhaps by no means a bad thing, as they are absolute devils to kill, but a stronger presence would have added a little something more.

Another stand out enemy from the trailers for Infinite is the Boy of Silence. These bizarrely clad enemies wear a helmet on their head that shines a spotlight across rooms. As soon as you are seen through their gaze, an alarm is sounded and you had better hope you have enough ammo to get through the inevitable onslaught of enemies. Not quite as eerie as trailers made them out to be, The Silent Boy is more of a living, breathing alarm as opposed to an enemy, but that’s not to say they won’t make you jump out of your comfy gaming seat once or twice.

The supposed boss battles however take on a slightly different form in Infinite. Whereas most players might be used to having a showdown with a crazy extremist, fighting them face to face in an epic battle of skill and wits, Infinite takes a different approach. The main antagonists never come to face your blade, or bullets, instead sending a huge tribe of enemies to attack you in an almost unforgiving way, coming at you from all angles, and in all shapes and sizes. These battles really do test your skills, regardless of never coming face to face with the man, or woman, who sent them for you. While this is not a direct criticism, it would have been nice to have had the chance to face those who would dare to stand in your way, and deal with them by your own hand.

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Scary, but not exactly terrifying

One of the biggest reflections of Rapture is the completely cultist and detached nature of the residents of Columbia, and this is where it really gets its eerie feeling from, and where Ken Levine did such a good job of tackling race and religion. Never an easy subject to broach in games, the extremity of religion, and the complete elitism of the white race at the time the game is set, really makes for an unsettling gameplay experience, but that is by no means a bad thing. Challenging the players own concepts of right and wrong, you are faced with a racial dilemma very early on, and are given the choice to do what the city of Columbia wants from you, or what you feel is right.

The residents of Columbia almost feel like purists, banishing anyone who isn’t in their ideal of perfection to a distant corner of the city. Segregation of white, blacks and even the Irish is broached several times, with even Elizabeth questioning these facts. Even if you weren’t originally questioning this, Elizabeth does it for you, constantly prompting the argument of right and wrong, and highlighting her innocence from being locked in the tower for so long.

And of course, no review of this game would be complete without a nod to the innovative skyline. A very novel way of getting around, the skyline in Columbia lets you almost literally fly around the city, attaching yourself with a magnetic hook, the skyhook. Conveniently doubling as a rather gruesome weapon, the skyhook allows you to latch onto any part of skyline and zoom around to your heart’s content, travelling to new destinations and even bludgeoning enemies from above.

I’m practically sitting on a cloud

Infinite is a beautiful game, there is no doubt about that, with attention to detail on every single enemy design as well as on the main characters. Nothing has been left as ‘that’s good enough’. Everything is stunning from the very moment you enter Columbia as you are catapulted towards the sky. A floating city is a thing of dreams, and the Infinite team really have captured the very essence of that dream world with floating buildings in a utopian style. You will struggle to find anywhere more beautiful than Columbia, even when it falls to ruin, suffering the same fate as Rapture.

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The landscape of Columbia cannot be faulted in its beauty

There was an argument about whether Infinite really needed as much violence and brutality as it portrayed, but somehow the design of the game made it work. Fans of gore had just enough to keep them satisfied, while it didn’t really go all out to make you feel as though you were watching a horror flick. Decapitated heads and bodies turned to ash were done in a very stylish manner, and still maintained that cartoon like feel that Bioshock does so well. You know it’s not real, even if the harshness of some of the deaths are brought to life through incredible graphics.

Haven’t I heard this somewhere before?

The soundtrack takes on the old 20s and 30s feel that we became accustomed to in the original, and takes it even further. If you listen closely enough, you might even recognise some more modern tracks with a retro twist put on them, with startlingly good results.

Chaotic battles are captured with dramatic drums and violent violins, really making you feel the rush of the fight and pulling you into the urgent atmosphere the longer you battle for. Eerie moments are accompanied by that all too familiar violin with a disturbing background that seems almost out of tune, and serves to really remind you that this is most definitely a Bioshock game, regardless of it being set in a new location.

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New songs done in an old way make for a unique experience

Sombre moments in the tale are told through sad songs crafted with delicate piano pieces, really pulling on the heartstrings and tying in very well with what you can see on the screen. Even the cultist sections of the game are really emphasised by a background of beautifully simple melodies sung by a calming choral group, giving that feeling of uneasiness at what they’re singing about, and the things they have been taught.

As soundtracks go, Infinite has a strong one, and the mix of orchestral, as well as modern and vocal works almost too perfectly together to the point where you might not even realise how brilliant it is while you’re playing. Give it a listen afterwards however, and you find yourself taken back to the scenes they are taken from, reliving the experience and discovering new things you had never even thought of before.

When all is said and done…

The ending of Bioshock Infinite is one you really need to pay attention to, otherwise you will be sat in front of your console, wondering what on earth just happened. It’s complicated, but satisfying, leaving a lot open for some interesting DLC if the rumours are to be believed.

Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game in its own right, and as long as you take it at face value it’s easily a strong contender for game of the year. However, if you compare it to the world of Rapture, it falls ever so slightly short. This doesn’t take away the perfect score it so rightfully deserves, but there is surely a lot more to be explored in DLC in the future, and that is an extremely exciting prospect.

The Stigma of Easy Mode

I’ll be the first to admit that if I a game is kicking me while I’m down, I will occasionally counterattack with a change in difficulty. I had to do this recently with Bioshock Infinite, which while frustrating as I had gone through the whole game on a different difficulty level, I was quite relieved as it just let me finish the game. I had to switch down to easy mode as I was getting completely obliterated right at the end of the game. I could have done it on normal mode, but I lacked the patience and to be perfectly honest, I just wanted to finish it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a challenge in games just as much as anyone else, but my skills aren’t always up to the test. There does appear to be a certain amount of snobbery at times when it comes to difficulty modes in games. Tell someone you completed the new Call of Duty on the highest difficulty setting and you’re a God. Tell that same person you completed it on easy mode, then you’re just a newbie who apparently doesn’t deserve the title of ‘gamer’. This does annoy me slightly, as I think it really depends on the game genre, and the kind of player you are.

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Games are starting to realise what different players want

There are some people who are excellent at completing FPS games on the most hardcore settings, and that’s because they have the patience and the strategic knowledge to get through them. Me? I’ve got an itchy trigger finger and if someone jumps in front of me, I’m going to fire as many rounds into them as I possibly can. I don’t have the patience for conserving ammo, so I normally set my FPS games on normal difficulty, which is just the right amount of strategy and ‘all guns blazing’ for my gaming style.

I would absolutely love to be able to claim I finished a game on super hardcore mode, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. If JRPGs had a better range of difficulty settings, then you can guarantee I’d be all over that. I can spend hours grinding my characters up to a good enough level, and then spend several more hours utilising the perfect strategy to beat down that secret boss who refuses to give in. I’m not sure how many hardcore FPS players would have the same patience and strategic planning, however.

My point is, every game has a different strategy, and a different set of mental skills is needed for each one. I start every game on a normal difficulty setting, but when it comes down to fighting games, it’s normally knocked down to easy relatively quickly. Is it because I’m just a bit rubbish at them? Mostly, but it’s also because I just want to enjoy the story. Persona 4 Arena finally arrived on Friday, and about an hour in I got fed up and had to knock down the difficulty mode. It’s very accessible and allows for people of all skill levels, but I’m just awful at fighting games, but I do still love to play them. I just lack the brain power to remember all the combos, but at the same time I’m not a button basher. I like to think i sit comfortably in the middle, with mostly my lack of patience to blame when I knock the difficulty down a notch.

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Persona 4 Arena is a beautiful, but at times difficult fighting game

I think the whole stigma of easy mode has become even more apparent with Xbox Achievements and PSN Trophies, as gamers can wear these with a virtual badge of honour. The person who completes Bioshock Infinite on 1999 Mode will have more achievements than someone who can only get through it on Easy mode. Does that make them less of a gamer? No, of course it doesn’t. I’m sitting on a comfortable 32K  gamer score on Xbox Live, and that would be so much higher if I completed some games on harder difficulty settings, but I really don’t care that much. Some people clearly gain enjoyment from playing their favourite games in the most challenging way, but it’s just not for me I’m afraid.

What do you think? Do you think easy mode is an acceptable mode for the so-called ‘hardcore gamers’ to play through, or can you only be classed a real gamer if you hoard your ammo and spend extra time on a game with a perfect strategy on Hard mode? Should we be playing for the achievement and virtual trophy, or should we be plying for enjoyment, regardless of the difficulty?

Ponderings on Bioshock Infinite

Well, I’m currently sat on one of my many trains to my holiday destination of Devon, and I realise I never posted any ponderings before I left! I’ve got my music on, and I’m crushed on a train full of commuters, so why not ponder now?

As soon as my parents sent me Bioshock Infinite in the post, all the other games in my to play pile got neglected.

Before I go onto my ponderings, I will say this; Infinite is a solid 10/10. No doubt about it, it’s an absolutely fantastic game, and I can’t really fault it enough to give it any lower than a perfect score. There are some things that it falls short on in my opinion. I might get those out of the way first.

I’ve really struggled to view Infinite as an entirely seperate game to the first two games. I’m missing Rapture, or at least elements of it. Rapture had it’s time, and it would have been like flogging a dead horse if yet another sequel was set there. The thing I miss the most though is the eerie feeling of Rapture. Don’t get me wrong, Infinite is creepy, but Columbia is lacking that claustrophobic feel that Rapture had. I think it’s just the horror junkie inside me though.

Moving onto the good though. I love the vigors, and I think they did a really good job of keeping them familiar enough, but also completely different. Sure, it’s all been a bit simplified, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can still chain vigors together for ultimate gory devastation, and you can still obliterate people with a huge host of guns. It’s just a bit easier to manoeuvre around everything. I have to say though, there is a certain vigor that’s my favourite, simply because it makes enemies heads explode. Not only am I a horror junkie, but also a gore junkie. And of course my weapon of choice is the machine gun.

On the side of characters, they’re all fantastic as usual, and none of them feel hollow or undeveloped. Even some of the minor characters feel fully developed. On the same note, I think the pacing of the plot is brilliant. It’s fast enough to make you push forward to find out more, but it also doesn’t force you forward. You’re free to wander around and explore, and that’s one thing I really love to do. I’ve managed to wander and clear my path without realising on several occasions.

The graphics and environment are also stunning. Despite me missing the cold, dark feel of Rapture, Columbia is a beautiful city, even in complete and total destruction. I spent the first few hours playing it and just going ‘oh my god, it’s beautiful’ to myself. It’s nice to play a game that isn’t trying to look real. It looks like a game, and you can really tell the effort that went into it.

Overall, I’m completely in love with it. There are certain things I won’t mention in this, because they could be potential spoilers, but let’s just say I’m expecting a lot more twists, and a lot more, well, ‘craziness’ from certain characters.

I’ll be back from holiday next Wednesday, and I hope to be able to post full ponderings on all the games I’m catching up on.

Have a gaming filled bank holiday weekend, and I’ll catch you next week.