#2- I Played a Lil'...Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Quick Question...
1.Describe it in three words, bitch. 
Kinda good letdown
2. Who's it for? 
Anyone, really. It hasn't sub-categorised itself too hard.
3.What did you take away from it?  
How great having camera control is 
4.Kinda like... 
 
God of War
5.So...worth a look? 
Meh.  
 

 Reviewy Part  

 Imagine, if you will, a high school-based representation of modern games. You have your Professor Layton- the nerdy, sweet kid who everyone secretly likes; Enslaved- the one who no one really pays attention to, but is actually pretty attractive; Super Meat Boy-the guy with jet black hair, silently cutting himself with his compass at the back of the class; and Castlevania-the annoyingly good-looking one, who on the surface seems to be good at everything, and only a vocal few seem to actively hate. Perhaps that’s why I have such a bugbear with this game; I never did like that dude in class.

In its defence, Castlevania did have a bit of a rocky road prior to its release. There seemed to be a big furore, particularly from long-time fans of the series, over the fact that the game was originally a totally separate product called ‘Lords of Shadow’, until Konami decided to adapt it into a reboot for the Castlevania series. I never really found issue with this; I love the series, particularly the later more RPG-based Metroidvania titles, but if Konami thought they could adapt a title to fit the style in 3D, then let them at it, I said. Even when it was going through review processes and people were still bemoaning the fact that the game was clearly different to any other in the series, I chose to give it the benefit of the doubt. You’re waiting for me to say that it turned out I was wrong, right? Well, to be fair, of all my niggles with the game, the fact that it’s ‘not very Castlevania-y’ is pretty low. The developers clearly didn’t just stick Belmont on the lead character’s name and be done with it. They do a good job of retaining the gothic elements of the series, expanding the mythical, if sometimes ridiculous, narrative, and keep your standard weapons, sub-weapons and experience-gaining.

In retrospect, maybe people shouldn’t have been quite so concerned in how similar to previous Castlevania games it was, and more to how the game plays as a standalone product. At the heart of it, Lords of Shadow is a third-person mashy ‘puzzle’-platformer. It doesn’t get anything too wrong in its core combat; it gets repetitive, sure, but the game offers up enough upgrades and extra skills to make things a little easier, and to generally avoid you thumping the same button constantly. Funnily enough, my problems lie in every other of those descriptions, so let me break it down. Firstly, the third-person.

I remember whilst growing up, during my first exposure to hearing and reading about games from journalistic sources, people always used to complain about cameras and camera controls. It always bemused for some reason, and I guess it wasn’t until I got older and more experienced that I truly understood what they were talking about. Case in point- Castlevania. Don’t get me wrong, some games are fine with fixed camera. In some cases camera control isn’t needed, and in others, linearly progressing the player means there’s little point giving them control. While Castlevania tends to fall in the latter, its camera seems to be daydreaming, staring off into the distance, looking at the pretty vistas and levels, and forgetting that making my character one pixel high may impede my experience. And yes, Lords of Shadow is a beautiful game, and maybe the level creators deserved credit, but maybe not quite that much. My main annoyance with fixed camera controls, which is somewhat generalised to other games such as the Devil May Cry series, is when you get caught between two areas where the cameras are in two differing perspectives, meaning you end up running into one, the game detecting that direction of the thumbstick as the opposite, and you running straight back to where you just came. Picky, and not entirely Castlevania’s fault, but I can’t shake the feeling that somewhere along the line the game became so obsessed with how attractive it was, it let everything else fall at the wayside. The platforming moan ties mostly in with this as well. The fixed camera often makes platforming more annoying than it need be. Jumps have a habit of being floaty, and the game will only let you grab on to specific ledges at specific periods when it sees fit.

So, next on my bitching list, the ‘puzzle’ elements. Some puzzles in the game I really did like. Stuff like Frankenstein’s lightning laboratory, the coloured lenses, and the music box are really unique, clever and intuitive. The game designers clearly took the time to plan out and map these things, and it comes across. What I do have a problem with are some of the other puzzle elements. Lords of Shadow seems to love to set up a puzzle, or even just a typical level, then scamper away laughing without really telling you what to do. The number of times I ran round and round levels just trying to work out what the heck I was supposed to be doing was just plain annoying. Maybe/probably I was just being stupid, but coupled with my stubbornness over the fact I always refused to take the offer of skipping the puzzles, meant I spent most of my time infuriated rather than intrigued.

My last whine has to go towards the story. Something clearly didn’t click with me here. Fundamentally, the story isn’t worse or better than your average video game tale, but by the end I was so tired of Gabriel pining after his wife, Patrick Stewart saying weird stuff in a dramatic fashion, and people generally talking about the darkness within that I just ended up zoning out during cut scenes. I think I could just about give you a synopsis on what happens, but the whole thing felt convoluted and so purposefully twisty and turny that I just ended up bored of it. So it turns out your good friend Patrick Stewart was a baddy from the beginning. Bet you didn’t see that coming, eh? Eh!? What confused me more was when I went back and replayed early levels, hearing him gabble on about how worried he was that Gabriel would succumb to the darkness, and how with killing all these things (mostly monsters, mind you; as far as I could tell Gabriel only killed two humans) he was becoming a monster himself. But...you’re evil yourself, right? So surely it didn’t really matter what happened to Gabriel, so long as he reached your end goal? Well, didn’t really matter anyway, within a couple of seconds of the end battle frigging Satan kills you. Though, then you reappear, fine and dandy during the epilogue...riiiight. I think playing Enslaved just prior slightly tainted my view, but overall the story just felt so clichéd and forced that it was like wearing an itchy jumper.

Wow. Seeing my many problems with this game on internet paper, as clearly as this, is actually a little odd. I want to say that, for what it was worth, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow wasn’t a terrible game. I’ve had much worse experiences, and as I said previously, when it tries, it gets things perfectly right, such as the look of the world and the characters designs, some of the more deep puzzles, and the upgrades available for your weapons. But there were so many times the game lost my respect by doing something I thought we’d outgrown as a ‘gaming world’. I dunno, maybe I see their direction, I just don’t quite follow it. Oh Castlevania. How could you make me get annoyed at Patrick Stewart?

Start the Conversation

#1- I Played a Lil'... Enslaved

 Quick Question...
 1.Describe it in three words, bitch. 
It has character(s)
2. Who's it for? 
Anyone, really. It hasn't sub-categorised itself too hard.
3.What did you take away from it?  
It made me realise just how much some other games suuuuck at story.
4.Kinda like...  
A hack and slash PoP 08
5.So...worth a look? 
Yup.   
 

 Reviewy Part

 If ever there was a game that middled in just about every aspect of its gaming graduation it'd be Enslaved. Everyone kinda knew about it. Everyone kinda played it. Everyone kinda liked it. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on it already; it made many people's end of year lists, mine included. The trouble was it didn't quite do enough to blow people away. 
 
The thing that grabs people most about Enslaved is it's story. Based on the Journey to the West narrative, the game does a good job of not falling into the trap of spending most of its time going "Hey, you see that...that's from Journey to the West right? But modern! Clever, eh?". Naturally, it chucks in a few things like Monkey's cloud and Pigsy to keep you aware of where its roots lie, but it's never particularly in your face, and doesn't depend upon anyone's prior knowledge of the original story in order to flesh out its own narrative. The most curious thing about Enslaved, however, is that I came away admiring it for not the actual story, but the way in which it is told. The story is pure backdrop for Ninja Theory to intricately profile the main characters of Trip and Monkey. They themselves are perhaps not deep, complicated people, but the way they interact is where the game hits gold. These two feel like believable figures. Not necessarily people you'd meet out on the street, but figures you can really imagine this world to produce; a post-apocalyptic environment where technology reigns supreme, and survival means creating a bridge-based puzzle outside your village. 
 
It's these characters and the interactions between the two that really show how prehistoric and at times plain dopey other games are with their stories. There's no maniacal force sat in a backlit tower atop a thunder-stricken mountain, cackling as he magically watches the two from afar. At the heart of it, Enslaved is about the rawness of a world starting again, and the simple emotions that match it; the need for survival and, later on, the need for retribution. With this in mind, it's often easy to remember Enslaved as a story rather than a game; whether that's to it's credit or not is another debate. But, gameplay did indeed exist and it was...OK, I guess.   

You start of with the basic heavy and light attacks, and eventually upgrade and gain new skills, but it never strays too far from this well practised formula.  To its credit, the combat actually had a 'meaty' sense to it; you really felt that it took a lot to take these metal monstrosities down, and you never became so powerful that they just ended up exploding after a light touch. The boss battles were equally standard fair, ranging from 'hit this guy a few times then do a take-down move', to 'dodge this guys attacks so he rams into something'. Again, nothing special, but you got a good sense of scale and almost fear. Often in games you'll have a long, drawn out, five minute cut scene showing a towering boss rise from the ground in front of you. Your character will give a bit of a shocked glance, before turning stoic and inexplicably 'getting on with the job'. Here though, the characters will often talk about how freaking scared they are dealing with a twenty foot monster. Which again, adds a welcome sense of 'realism'.

Outside of combat, you're traversing what must be said are stunning levels. Sure, you mostly do this via everyone's favourite ledge-climbing mechanic (Thank you Lara Croft), but then Monkey is set up, as his name indicates, as a nimble, athletic, climb-y sort of guy. In one of the major shocks of last year, Ninja Theory actually worked out that post-apocalyptic didn't necessarily mean paint-everything-brown. They instead creating a vivid, almost watercolour-esque aesthetic, with gorgeous vegetation covering this slowly decaying land. The game feels warm, almost summery, contrasting the bleak prospect of the two characters. Since the main conceit of the game is that you, as Monkey, are enslaved by Trip, it does a good job of incorporating things like the HUD and checkpoints as by-products of your slave headband. Equally this allows you to 'aid' Trip, telling her to do things such as distract enemies or follow behind you, although for the most part I just ran in and bashed dudes because I'm crappy at stealth.  
 
So, as a game, Enslaved is pretty averaging. It does nothing wrong, it just treads slightly old ground. What makes it stand out is its amazing ability to make you connect and understand these characters. Perhaps Ninja Theory achieved their goal, blurring the once thick marker pen line between movies and games. That's not to say I'd pay to go see these cut scenes thrown together at the cinema, but it's the one defining feature I'll ultimately take away from the game. If nothing else, my praise goes to Ninja Theory for trying something different, and making me connect with game characters for the first time in a long time. 
Start the Conversation

A Documentation Into My Gaming Habits of the Year 2011

Turns out I like games.  

And, more to the point, I like writing about games.   

Trouble is I'm extremely flaky. If I lack direction, then I'm pretty lost.  
 
And so, in a vain attempt to do something worthwhile and improve my skills, I'm going to aim to document every game I play this year. They won't be reviews as such, since I'm not advising on whether the game is worth a purchase, more putting my thoughts down in electronic ink. That's not to say I won't recommend games if I had a ton of fun playing them, especially since my secondary aim is to play slightly older games, be they deemed classics or just stuff I feel I missed out on. 
 
Along with these post-views or whatever you want to call them, I'll also do blog posts that cover a topic common to a few of the recently played games. They'll cover a range of different topics, give my insight as to how well they're achieved in modern games, and look at a few examples on both ends of the spectrum. 
 
Although this is selfishly mainly exercise for me, I'm happy to hear other people's thoughts, particularly on the over-arching issues (I'll come up with a snappier title). So, bare with me, hopefully enjoy, and leave sarcastic comments. Because that's what the internet's for.

Start the Conversation

A Giant Bomb Education

 

I'll admit, before I discovered this site, I was a 'stupid gamer'. By that I mean that yeah, I played games for far too long and checked out sites like IGN and the like for gaming news, but it was rarely for anything outside AAA titles or adventurey type games that I naturally gravitated towards. Then I came across Giant Bomb, and for whatever reason, it felt like my whole gaming horizon had massively expanded.
 
Now, this may be a massively heinous thing to admit to, but a couple of months ago the most Blizzard did as far as I was concerned was Diablo and WoW. Then everyone started gabbling on about this ‘Starcraft’ thing so I decided to check it out. Now I’m happily making my way through the original game, massively looking forward to playing through the sequel AND the Warcraft series. Back then the idea of a late-90’s RTS did nothing for me. In fact, the idea of any sort of RTS totally disinterested me. But through Brad’s coverage, the TNT, and discussion on the podcast I got curious. And curiosity always spurs me on.

Without Giant Bomb, stuff like the Persona series, the Professor Layton games, even stupid-ass stuff like Wipeout and the party games, would’ve totally passed me by. And it’s not because the staff focus too heavily on these games, it’s simply because at the heart of Giant Bomb is a small team, and you listen to what they have to say because, fortunately enough, it’s normally worth hearing.

And, yeah, if you wanna write me off as one of the people who idolise Giant Bomb then go for it, I’ll happily accept that brand. But I honestly can’t say any other gaming website out there has had this effect on me. Most of the time they’re impersonal news junkits who spew out whatever publishers feed them. Around here, the guys actually make me take notice of stuff, whether it’s something I think I’ll be interested in or not, and allow me to try new, challenging experiences. There are thousands of games produced per year. And I’m just happy to be experiencing a few more of them.

5 Comments

Fable 2's Ending

Having just finished Fable 2, I have to say I found the ending a little underwhelming. The game seemed to build up constantly to you reaching the Spire and facing off with Lucien, which ultimately ended with you pressing Y and cutting off his rant. I guess this was classed as 'poetic justice' but it still seemed like they were building to something, as he took each of the elements from the heroes, and I could of easily seen a face off between you and him, pretty much fighting a dark version of yourself. For an otherwise stellar game the ending seemed to fizzle.

5 Comments