(some spoilers follow, I have hidden the main ones)
I have no experience with the Fables comics, and The Wolf Among Us is my first foray into that world and its characters. The only thing that attracted me to the game was that it was developed by Telltale, who I felt did an extraordinary job on The Walking Dead in 2012. With that in mind I was hopeful but not wary about what to expect from The Wolf Among Us, but what I have played so far is one of the most interesting and colourful stories in games. It is also deeply frustrating in numerous aspects, and I will discuss these now.
Firstly, Episode One, Faith, blew away my expectations and almost immediately convinced me to love the setting. I thought the idea of fairytale characters living in New York sounded pretty uninteresting, but the dark adult tone and events of Episode One combined with the depiction of the characters and phenomenal art style easily got me invested. Bigby is a weighty character, with a real sense of potential menace that Lee Everett largely lacked in The Walking Dead. The character designs are just fantastic, and the lighting and colour aesthetic give everything a lot more energy than The Walking Dead possessed.
The quality of the music and voice acting is really strong, adding further power to the game and really drew me into its events: prostitution, marital estrangement, murders, class income differences, urban living, attempting to differ ones actions from the expectations of others and other really good stuff was all at the forefront of Faith. When the titular character ends up beheaded and Bigby is tasked with finding the killer the story really took off for me and kept me intrigued until the end despite a lack of major decisions to make. The most aggressive action I took in the first episode was ripping Grendal’s arm off, which felt like something that Bigby may do despite me largely playing him as a repentant cop with a gruff Solid Snake like nature.
The ending of the episode, with Snow’s head on the steps of the Woodlands was a shock for me; the idea that they would kill off such a likable character so early in the series, despite my only barely getting to know her in the first part of the game, was bold and daring, and I was pumped for a more twisted and dark second episode.
Unfortunately, Episode Two, Smoke and Mirrors, is exactly what its title says, and I felt greatly let down by both its narrative direction and its scope. It felt far shorter than Faith and its wholesale retreat from killing Snow was a betrayal of my investment in the first episode, despite my relief that she was not horribly dispatched as I had believed. There are no major moral decisions to make and the character interactions really did feel like they came down a notch. The whole back and forward suspicion of the Woodsman and Tweedledee felt weak considering it is clear neither of them are the killer, and the ending was disturbing in its revelation but left no real answers.
As this is a Telltale point and click narrative adventure I am not exactly looking for deep gameplay or mechanics, but I do expect decent technical performance, especially considering the amount of time they take to put each episode out. I played on the PS3, and not only were all my complaints about hitching and stuttering from The Walking Dead back in both episodes, but it was worse than ever and noticeably took away from my enjoyment of the game. I really do wish it would run smoothly because the art design deserves it. It also enraged me that the trophies for Episode Two did not properly unlock, another problem I had with the achievements on the 36o version of Episode Three of The Walking Dead. This was obviously not a huge deal, but it is further indication of the sheer technical issues that this developer has on a constant basis, and coupled with their inconsistent release schedule makes me disinclined to get episodic games from them in future before all the series is out and patched.
Overall, I am loving The Wolf Among Us so far. It is a vibrant breath of fresh air narratively that I wish would be a bit braver but still has 3 whole episodes to go. I just hope they are more like the first one instead of the disappointment of episode two, and that the game performance improves, though I guess if I want that I would really need to play on a PC, because it seems Telltale can’t make a game function on a console. I really hope that this is a game which achieves its potential by the end because it is doing things which I find much more interesting narratively than the vast majority of what is available out there. Hears hoping that Episode Three brings the momentum back. I am also looking forward to finding out why the chapter picture for Episode Three changed in the interim between episode releases. More mystery abounds!
· Natural and energetic introduction to the setting
Work and life has taken a lot of time from me this year, meaning I have played a lot less games than previous years. My PC has also been broken since the summer meaning I missed a lot of games I want to play on that platform. Despite this I still managed to play a lot of games that I really enjoyed, and cobble together a list from them. This list will likely change over the course of 2014 but at the moment this is how I feel about the games of 2013.
I do not own a Wii U or Xbox One so obviously none of their exclusives are available to me and as I said my PC is out of action, but here are my personal top ten games of 2013:
10: Battlefield 4 (PS4)
With Destiny and Titanfall on the horizon it looks like we are at the end of the modern military shooters dominance over the genre, but Battlefield 4 would be a great way to see it off. In a year where CoD was a disappointment Battlefield 4 managed to significantly improve its singleplayer campaigns quality while maintaining the excellence of its multiplayer.
My enjoyment of the online is curtailed by having few friends to play it with, but it is a damn impressive game that has great visuals and scale. It has some significant technical issues at the moment and has crashed on me a few times, but I am still enjoying my time with Battlefield 4 and want to play a lot more thanks to its less linear and controlled combat scenarios and sheer scale of its combat scenarios.
9: Tomb Raider (PS3)
Ironically taking lessons from the success of Uncharted, Tomb Raider is a reboot that brings viability back to a series that I felt was dead. While I found the story and the development of Lara into a killer was laughable under examination the actual gameplay did not let me down. Tight controls and strategic combat scenarios made this a pleasure to play, and the bow was a blast to use. I felt like a hunter as I used it, relishing each enemy encounter as another opportunity to ambush foes and nail them with arrows.
The visuals are gorgeous and the design of the island is just lovely. Yes the story is predictable and the ending ultimately disappointing, but I would love to see this reboot continued forward and really enjoyed my time with the new Tomb Raider.
8: DmC Devil May Cry (Xbox 360)
God of War has been my character action game series of choice, and I have rarely enjoyed the pacing and style of the Devil May Cry series. Most of the Devil May Cry games are relatively boring, with only 3 really standing out to me as a game truly worth investing in, until DMC. Ninja Theory have crafted one of the most attractive, interesting and fun action games I have ever played in DMC, a reboot that got much more hate than it deserved.
The combat is deep yet accessible, the story decent and the overall game just comes together beautifully. Stylish, responsive and gorgeous, DMC is for my money far superior to any of its predecessors and one of the best games of the year. It deserved to do much better in sales, but I am delighted that Ninja Theory were able to give us this game even if they don't get to do anything else with this series in the future.
7: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS3)
Smaller games have increasingly improving in recent years, filling the creativity gap left by risk adverse larger budget games, and Brothers is the example of this for 2013. A game that focuses on telling as story through its gameplay mechanics and abandons combat completely, Starbreeze have a compelling title in this one.
Brothers is not without issues, having controls I found extremely awkward at sections, and some rough fidelity to its visuals. Having said that, it also has one of the most engaging aesthetic styles of any game this year, leaning on a fantastical world of Nordic mythos, and a story with real impact and satisfaction by its conclusion. By using game mechanics to directly involve the player in the story Brothers manages to be one of the most memorable games I played this year.
6: Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
My first experience with Nintendo's strategy series was one that left me very surprised, as it is one of the deepest strategy games I have played in years.
Blending RTS mechanics with JRPG elements works beautifully here, with a character system that invests the player by having a well drawn cast of characters who you get to know under the constant danger of permanent death. There are real consequences for screwing up in battle, and the actual combat is so satisfying. Fire Emblem Awakening is a refined and demanding game, but one that I am glad extremely glad I became involved with.
5: Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (PS4)
I haven't finished Black Flag yet as I only got it for Christmas. However, it is already one of my favourites this year, completely restoring the flagging AC series and tossing all the excess crap that AC 3 built up.
The setting is stunning, providing a gorgeous game that concentrates its efforts on the strength of the series instead of mind-numbing side tasks that brought down Revelations and 3. It helps that the visuals are crisp and it plays like a charm on PS4, providing that "next gen" feel that justifies my purchase of a new console. AC 4 is a fantastic, exciting and fun game, and is likely to rise higher in this list unless it makes a mess of its conclusion. Assassin's Creed is back to its best with Black Flag.
4: Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360)
The original Bioshock is one of my favourite games of all time, so I had heavy expectations from Infinite. While it does not live up to all of them, it does manage to capture the same spirit while changing the setting from Rapture to the flying city of Columbia, providing an immersive and colourful world that is unafriad to explore a darker side and some uncomfortable themes.
The combat could be better and I do wish the game was less linear without a dull middle section, but the strength of the world and characters, the stunning art direction and the captivating narrative drove me through the game to its fantastic conclusion. Irrational once again made good on their talenr and ambition witi Bioshock Infinite.
3: Grand Theft Auto V (PS3)
Massive in scope and scale, GTA V is probably the biggest and most ambitious game of the year. It clearly takes lessons from Red Dead Redemption and improves upon every aspect of the gameplay from GTA 4, from shooting to driving to checkpoint layout.
Rockstar created a world that is a pleasure to inhabit and just traverse, allowing me to espape my Wintery reality and go to the sunshine of Los Santos. It does feel slightly dated but it really resonated with its cultural commentary with me, and Trevor is absolutely one of the best characters I have seen in any creative medium. The heists are exciting and while the online should be a lot better it does not prevent GTA V from being among the best times I had with games in 2013. It also managed to get my non-gaming friends to play it, and that is quite a feat.
2: Pokemon Y (3DS)
Despite the negative rhetoric, Nintendo had a great year for actual quality of games, and Pokemon Y was at the forefront of this for me. I have played all the entries in the series and enjoyed them, but Y completely overhauls the visuals while opening up the game mechanics in ways the series has needed for years.
The online is fantastic and adds huge longevity to the endgame, the sheer selection of monsters available to the player is the strongest in the series and the introduction of a new typing of Pokemon changes the metagame in some really interesting ways. I have spent nearly 300 hours with this game during my commutes to work, and I have immensely enjoyed my time with it. Pokemon Y is an enthralling game and shows the continued strengths of a handheld console. Long may it last.
1: The Last of Us (PS3)
Talk about sending a console off with a bang. Naughty Dog proved that making a new IP can payoff late in the cycle of a generation with this remarkable achievement. The Last of Us is undoubtedly one of the best games I have ever experienced.
It is a harrowing experience with a haunting story, gorgeous visuals, natural characters and a lovely soundtrack. There have been complaints about its gameplay, but I found its blend of survival elements with more bombastic Uncharted-esque play to be nearly perfect. It is a tense and thrilling game with great pacing and I feel deserves recognition as one of the all time greats. It has a perfect ending, some powerfully poignant moments and easily overpowers anything else I played this year. The Last of Us is my game of the year for 2013.
Nintendo are responsible for many long standing and beloved series, and my personal favourite one is the Pokemon games, even over Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Pokemon is long running and is a series which has often stood accused of failing to change with the times, of being stale or lacking imagination. These claims have some truths behind them but Game Freak have refined the formula of a Pokemon game for years into satisfying and charming games that stay true to what makes them fun, and this has kept me interested in them since I played the original Red and Blue. Now Pokemon is taking its steps into a new era on the 3DS in Pokemon X and Y, and Game Freak have not only stayed true to their past work but they have managed to bring the game forward by leaps and bounds in a range of areas.
Pokemon X and Y are the first games in the core series to enjoy a full 3D graphics boost, and for a series that has never had much ambition with visuals or graphics this game is visually fantastic. The world is fully filled out and coloured, with different looks for diverse routes as one would expect from a Pokemon game. X and Y take place in the Kalos region, which is the Pokemon version of France, and Game Freak used this transition combined with the change of platform to create their largest city areas to date as well as some genuinely attractive sky views, waterfall areas and just a world that is filled with colour and charm. The titular pocket monsters themselves are all rendered and animated in full 3D in a way that directly reminded me of Pokemon Stadium from the N64, a game I have fantastic memories from. X/Y use this visual boost in the battles very effectively, and many moves are animated incredibly effectively, adding a lot of extra satisfaction to battles.
The music has also been given some great new work, with some very easy and endearing tracks for some of the Kalos regions towns and settlements. Unfortunately the game is still not voice acted, but the sound design is overall excellent, and the Pokemon cries have been reworked to have a sense of their origins from whatever generation it may be from but with a feel that is fitting for a modern hand-held game.
The storyline of X/Y is broadly the same as it has always been in the series: fill the Pokedex for the regions Professor and stop a criminal team of evil-doers from completing their diabolical plot. There are some twists in the storyline but overall it is a step back from the advances that Black/White made in the narrative department, and things are generally extremely light with characters relegated to exposition spouters and peripheral figures.
The turn based combat is back and despite the initially daunting new graphical style of the game, the core gameplay is identical. This is still the Pokemon that you played in the past at its heart, and anyone who has played one of these games before will quickly fall back into the familiar pattern. This may be a problem for some, but Pokemon has an excellent, approachable and fun battle system for my money so I am delighted that X/Y retained this while also dramatically speeding up combat and refining the improvements made during the Black/White and Black/White 2 games. Even with the familiar mechanics and face-value identical appearance of combat, Game Freak have added some major changes in X/Y that have greatly altered the balance of the Pokemon game. For the first time since the second generation Pokemon games, a new type has been added: Fairy type Pokemon. Immune to Dragon type attacks, Fairy's dramatically change the meta-game and end the dominance of the Dragon type in competitive play. There are also the much touted Mega Evolutions, which dramatically improve a creatures abilities and stats but are balanced by only allowing one use per battle. This feature is not as overpowered as I feared it would be, and contributes to the strategies of battle in a meaningful and interesting way.
In addition to the new type, Game Freak have added super training, which is a faster and far more simple means of ev training Pokemon for online battles. This won't make any difference to the more casual players, but for anyone who wants to play online in a serious way this is a gift from above and saves players so much time. Speaking of saving time, there are several other measures which change the pacing in X/Y to make things faster. The sluggish and slow intro section that every Pokemon game goes through is much faster here, and the game has roller skaters as well as running shoes and the traditional bike. X/Y is the fastest game in the series to date, and bemnefits greatly from this in its feel and pacing. Going back to online, the improved functionality of the 3DS allows X/Y to take full advantage and have a range of new additions and improvements in the online department. Random "Wonder" trades, battling, normal trading and player interactions are all made completely simple, and the only problem with the online is Nintendo's silly friend code system.
So with a great sense of pacing, a huge variety of Pokemon to catch and forge teams from across the adventure and huge improvements in function and access to the online this is a powerful Pokemon game, but there are some problems that I did not expect. The biggest issue I had with my own playthrough was that the game is also the easiest in the series. This is largely due to the way the new experience share works. It is now a key item, granting half of the experience earned in battle to each of the creatures in your party. Leveling up is much faster but as a direct consequence I was over-leveled and crushed every gym leader and the league without losing to any in-game character. The online is as tough and competitive as ever, but the lack of challenge was a disappointment. The weaker story was another issue, and I also experienced frame rate drops at times due to on screen activity. I assume this is as a result of the new graphic style but I would have expected the issue to be less of a problem than it is.
Despite this problems Pokemon X/Y is a fantastic RPG with huge charm and is so much fun to play. I have thouroughly enjoyed my playthrough of it and have yet to complete all of the post game content. Game Freak brought the series multiple steps forward with this entry while retaining everything that makes it so great and enduring, and I really feel that is is a dramatic improvement for the series that has infused it with a fresh sense of energy and excitement. I would call Pokemon X/Y a game worth buying a 3DS for, and along with Fire Emblem Awakening is my favourite game on the platform, inclusive of Super Mario 3D Land. Pokemon never went away, but for those who lost interest over the years I would say that X/Y is the most dramatic jump in the series since the old days, and is most definitely worth a look.
Huge selection of Pokemon and addition of a new type
Catherine is a rare breed of game, and one that is different from just about anything else that I have played. This first foray by Atlus into the HD era of games combines puzzle gameplay with anime and a dose of Japan that is fitting for the developer of Persona, but Catherine has more issues than one may expect from this developer.
Catherine puts players in the role of Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old guy in a relationship with long term girlfriend Katherine. Vincent is not exactly enthusiastic about taking things to the next level with Katherine, especially with her not so subtle marriage hints, and it is in the middle of his internal committal conflicts that the energetic 22 year old Catherine comes into his life. To add a supernatural twist to matters, unfaithful men are dying in their sleep, and just as Vincent begins a relationship with Catherine he begins to have disturbing nightmares. The story of Catherine focuses on Vincent's struggle to pick between the seductive, carefree yet chaotic Catherine, and the dependable yet domineering and somewhat suffocating Katherine. Vincent is counselled by his trio of friends, Orlando, Jonny and Toby, in a local bar called the Stray Sheep which he frequents each night. It is here that most of the story interactions in the game take place, through dialogue options with Vincent's three close friends as well as Erica, the bar waitress.
There are also other patrons of the Stray Sheep, with their own problems and nightmares. These characters actually have some of the most interesting stories of the game, and Vincent can influence their eventual fate by encouraging them and giving some advice or input. It is a shame that these side chats are so peripheral because the core game narrative and story is not all that interesting in its substance. Katherine and Catherine are both frustrating and shallow characters, not much more than opposite cliche representations of relationships. Vincent himself is an exceptionally weak individual and his fate simply failed to engage or interest me. The saving grace of the story is that the other characters, Vincent's friends, are pretty well represented with their issues, and the style of the setting is excellent. This fails to make up for the lack of player engagement with the story, the deceptive simplicity of the morality choices and the weakness of the twist at the end of the game.
Catherine is blessed with some gorgeous visuals, with a hand drawn anime look to its cutscenes and a lovely almost cell shaded appearance to its in game graphics. The use of colour and lighting also feeds into the style of the settings, specifically the Stray Sheep pub. It strengthens the unique identity of Catherine and brings the sheer "Japaneseness" of the title to the fore. The soundtrack is also well integrated into the experience and is fitting for the tone. Voice acting is nice and varied, with the stand-out performances once again being the characters Vincent meets in the Stray Sheep each evening.
Actually playing Catherine breaks down into two distinct sections: the conversation heavy Stray Sheep and the block puzzle nightmares each night when Vincent goes home to sleep. These block puzzles are the core of the gameplay in Catherine, and I found them to be very challenging. Vincent must climb to the top of the tower each evening on a time limit, overcoming physical obstacles and barricades as he goes. At the end of each night there will be a boss stage, where something from Vincent's worst fears will relentlessly pursue him in a tougher version of the stages before it.
Unfortunately, these block puzzles quickly become boring. There are certainly efforts made to make them more interesting, with the addition of ice blocks, trampolines and power-ups as the game goes on, but the core mechanics get stale within a few hours. This is not helpful when the game runs for around 15 hours and goes on much longer than it should towards the ending. The controls for climbing the block towers are also relatively unresponsive and lack the speed which I felt I needed for Vincent to do what I wanted him to do. For example, you can hang off the side of blocks and shimmy along rows, but on numerous occasions I let go and fell to my death unintentionally. This adds to the extreme difficulty curves of Catherine, and I eventually set things to easy difficulty to just get through the stages and onto the next story segment.
This really is the biggest problem of Catherine; it is just not fun or interesting to play. It is difficult but not particularly smart, with just frustrating level designs. The story is what carries the experience, but the main characters are shallow and the narrative never makes the most of the supernatural angles that it had available to it. From a technical perspective I encountered no problems, with everything running smoothly and load times being short. The game has a great style that makes me really want to at least try a sushi stall or traditional food venue in Japan if I ever go on a holiday there, but this sense sense of identity and attractive style is not enough to carry an entire game. There are some side activities to play in the form of arcade cabinets in the bar, but an arcade version of yet more block puzzles is the last thing that Catherine needed in my view. There is also a limited multiplayer mode where you climb competitively against other players times, and this unlocks after you have finished the singleplayer, but again I do not know why you would want to subject yourself to yet more climbing after completing Catherine.
Catherine is not a bad game, and I am sure that a lot of people have and will enjoy this more than I did, but a story that lacks player engagement and gameplay that becomes a chore is not enough to recommend a game, and it worries me that some may have given this game a pass by virtue of who the developer is. It does tackle themes that most games pretend don't even exist and I applaud it for that, but Catherine is just not an enjoyable experience to playthrough, and that is a real shame.
Naughty Dog have a powerful track record in the PS3 with the Uncharted series, but The Last of Us is a brand new IP with a very different tone and world than the swash-buckling adventures of Nathan Drake. The zombie apocalypse setting is a very familiar one by now thanks to a raft of games and other media which have anchored themselves in it, but with The Last of Us, Naughty Dog have managed to put a fresh spin on it, added their own style and deft hand to the mix and created an experience that is one of the most powerful to be had in gaming.
The Last of Us opens with a simple prologue which perfectly sets the events and context of the world the player is about to experience. It is the night of the mass outbreak of a deadly fungal infection which twists humans into blood-thirsty monsters, and as usual a single scratch or bite will infect another person. After the emotionally wrought and powerful prologue a gap of 20 years is skipped and we are placed in the role of Joel, a survival veteran who is living in a quarantine zone and working as a smuggler with his partner, Tess. A series of events transpire resulting in Joel and Tess been tasked with smuggling a girl named Ellie out of the remnants of Boston and into the hands of a group named the Fireflies, who aim to forge a better world out of the ruins of the old one.
There is no real grand scheme or overarching tale in The Last of Us. Instead, the real narrative strength of this experience comes from the daily hardship of survival in this world and what these characters have to do to survive, and their dependence on each other. Such a narrative heavily leans on its characters driving the experience, but The Last of Us easily meets this hurdle by having some of the best drawn, interesting and well developed characters in this generation of games. Joel is a damaged man with a past, but he genuinely develops over the course of the story in a way that is both natural and satisfying. Ellie may be a child but she is also one of the finest characters out there, and it is amazing that so soon after Telltales The Walking Dead another game has managed to meet the standard set by Clementine, albeit in a very different manner. Ellie is hardened, brisk and capable yet also lovable, and her interactions with Joel come off completely naturally and in a way that is just the life of this games narrative. Its is very much a story that taps into fatherly sentiment, but mixed in with the deadly serious and dark tone of this setting it is a thrilling mix.
The Last of Us also manages to craft a completely authentic and believable world. Everything feels lived in, something that few games manage to accomplish. I love Dead Space, but its hard to imagine anyone actually living comfortably in the confines of the Ishimura, or people living in the guard quarters depicted in Space Marine. By contrast, every space in The Last of Us feels real, dense with the amount of details in the environments. It also takes lessons from the Half-Life school of storytelling, allowing clues or items in the environs to tell little stories and fill in gaps of what happened to the people in that area or place. You also meet other survivors throughout the journey through the ruins of the United States, and these are all well depicted and fit nicely into the story.
Visually, The Lat of Us is up there with the best that the PS3 has to offer in terms of beauty and sheer fidelity. I already mentioned the amount of detail given to the environments, from liquor stores, game arcades and abandoned homes to rural winter landscapes, but there is a lot more to love here from a visual perspective. The character animations are natural, organic and add a lot of character to the experience, even from something as simple as Joel climbing a stairs or ladder. There is a great use of light, and a variety to the chapter settings that manages to keep things fresh and mixed throughout the single player. The infected look fantastic, and are genuinely frightening to take on at times, and the level of gritty violence that is indulged in is just brutal, but in the best possible way. There are some instances of rough pop-in and other roughness, but these minor issues fail to take away from the overall visual splendour in The Last of Us.
The music is also incredible, with a sound track that does an exceptional job at capturing the somber tone of this world, but also perfectly places and inserts tracks of hope to match the positive scenes. The music is nothing short of beautiful, and strengthens every aspect of the narrative experience without overwhelming anything, and I would like to particularly mention the credits theme as an exceptional piece of work that brings the game to a perfect tonal close. Voice acting is also fantastic, with both Joel and Ellie being powerfully delivered characters, especially in the dialogue that happens during gameplay, and all the side characters are done well. The infected are greatly empowered by the voice work for them, particularly the Clickers, who have been added to my mental list of most chilling game enemies to face.
Of course, none of this would mean much if the gameplay was bad, but Naughty Dog crafted an incredible game in addition to all the visual and audio frills. The Last of Us is clearly made by the minds behind the Uncharted series, fitting into the same cinematic, relatively linear and exciting gameplay formula, but the difference in tone and detail makes a huge difference which results in a unique identity all of its own.
It is rare for a game to have gameplay that matches so authentically with its narrative elements, but The Last of Us manages to do this in a way that extremely few other games I have played have managed. This is a game filled with survivalist elements, and really provides a Survival-Horror experience at times which trumps easily trumps the likes of Resident Evil 6 or recent Silent Hill iterations. Do you use your sparse resources to clear the room of enemies, or attempt to sneak past the horrors within and preserve your resources for another encounter? The Last of Us manages to present these decisions in an off-the-cuff manner that is naturalistic and exciting for the player to be involved in. There is a great sense of player agency, a deep amount of violence that feeds directly into the characterisation of the characters and it all comes together fantastically thanks to the sound mechanics holding the game together.
You can craft new items like shivs or health packs, but this is done in-game without a pause. Enemies can be stealth killed or taken head on- its a risk management system that is extremely rewarding. The enemy AI is also fantastic most of the time, as human foes dive into cover and use team based tactics to flank and trap the player while the Infected will be smarter than just blindly charging at the player. The weapons available are the usual suspects, but when combined with the scarcity of ammo and non-regenerating health they become a deeper and more ingrained part of the game than most third person shooter experiences manage to achieve.
There is also a team based multiplayer mode which integrates itself into the structure of the game world rather than being shoe-horned into things for its own sake. While I played The Last of Us for its single-player offerings, what I played of the multiplayer felt not only totally fine but actually a fairly unique and characterful experience that could very much foster its own community and be worth investing a lot of time into with some friends thanks to its rewarding progression system and focus on stealth elements, managing to maintain a large part of what makes the singleplayer so damn satisfying.
I had no technical issues with The Last of Us beyond the minor pop-in which I already mentioned. The load times are quite long when you start up the game, but once things are in motion there is no loading between chapters and the whole thing feels like one of the most refined and crisp experiences on the platform, or indeed any platform. The structure of the game does force stealth as by far the most viable option in the early segments, but once you get some upgrades and equipment other options become viable. The Last of Us also maintains the strength of the major set pieces that Uncharted is known for, though it warps and adapts them to a more subtle level for its own world. For instance, the inclusion of horses was a deft and brilliant move, and it is the simple things like that which I felt raised this game to the true heights of brilliance in conjunction with everything else it has going for it. he combat and motion is fluid, tense, and is simple enough to slide into but deep enough for many playthroughs. This is a game that puts everything related to its gameplay first and foremost and uses story, graphics, and set pieces to build on that gameplay in a cohesive and fulfilling way.
I do not believe that any game is perfect, they all have problems as does everything that people make. However, I have rarely felt so wholly satisfied as I did after completing the thrilling finale of The Last of Us. The game is lengthy, taking me 12 hours on normal, but I didn't feel that I needed any more, The pacing was perfect, and the ending completely wraps up this self-contained story. All the elements of this experience come together in a way that compliment and build upon each other, and I feel that it is this which makes The Last of Us such a Strong product. It also feels that The Last of Us is cohesively whole, that it is not a game made by committee but rather a vision was set out at its inception, and that by the ending this vision was satisfied without compromise. It is this feeling of sheer character that makes The Last of Us one of the best games I have ever played. Naughty Dog went all out on this one, and crafted an incredible game at the very end of a generation, and for that they deserve all the praise that this game has received and more. I implore anyone who enjoys this medium with access to a PS3 to play The Last of Us, because it is fantastic.
Exceptional writing and narrative
Gorgeous visuals and music
Tense gripping gameplay
Strong replay value with new game+
Great stealth and survival horror elements
Outstanding pacing from chapter to chapter
Small pop-in issues
Friendly AI can break illusion
Nolan Norths role is quite different from Drake....
Continuing with the theme of the ending of a generation of home consoles and arrival of a new batch, I will talk about the second console I owned. Having bought and absolutely loved my N64 I was given a Playstation for Christmas 1998, allowing me to experience an entire new and fresh set of games. In thinking about the impact that the Playstation had on my gaming tastes and the kind of games I like to play to this day, it was not easy narrowing down a list to 10, especially considering I played dozens of games on the system. The Playstation was a very different beast to the Nintendo 64, with a very different set of games, but these are the 10 games that have the strongest standing in my memories of my second home console, and that I think of most fondly all this time later, as well as play from time to time:
10: Silent Hill
Resident Evil was my first foray into the horror genre when I got my Playstation, but it was Konami's Silent Hill that really got to me in ways that Capcom's series never managed to match. Silent Hill was a game that knew exactly how to differentiate itself from its rivals and stand out as a phenomenal experience.
Silent Hill was subtle, psychological and had an intense sense of pacing with an intriguing story for the time. I felt like running from most encounters in the game, as Harry was flimsy enough to make every fight a struggle. The melee mechanics were better than the first 3 Resident Evil games for my money, and the music and sound design were exceptional.
Silent Hill was a hell of a creepy experience for the 9 year old me, and while it has not aged well, in particular the pretty horrific graphics, it still stands out in my mind as one of the exceptional experiences I had with the Playstation, and as the game that engendered a healthy fear of horror games in me, but one that I still love to tap into to this day.
9: The Unholy War
The Unholy War was an arena fighter that provided a fantastic concept and pretty unique game experience. Two races, the Teknos and the Arcanes, are battling it out for control of the resources of a mysterious planet, but what really mattered here was the selection of fantastically imaginative characters to slaughter each other.
The Unholy War was dark and violent, but with a great sense of identity that still gets to jump on and play my copy from time to time. A giant Rhinoceros who farts, a kamikaze bomber pilot, a cyborg with rotating blades for hands, a sorcerous comet-inducing lizardman and a tank with arms and rockets are just some of the great characters you can play as.
The Unholy War was a great multiplayer game to sit down and enjoy with friends or relatives. It had a resource based strategy map elements, rock-paper-scissors style match-ups with plenty of tactical elements and a great setting and backdrop. Nothing more ever came of this series, but for me personally The Unholy War stands as one of the Playstation era greats and deserves a lot more recognition than it gets.
8: Crash Bandicoot Warped
Nintendo had Mario, but Sony had Crash Bandicoot, and while I loved all three of the Playstation entries in this phenomenal set of games it was Warped that had the greatest impact on me.
Crash was a master class in 3D platformers, but it was Warped that had the finest level design and charm. I still remember riding a tiger across the great wall of China, flying a Spitfire to take on blimps and enemy planes and getting chased by a Triceratops through a bone graveyard. Crash Bandicoot 3 had it all, not to mention an apple bazooka, which went down very well with me in my childhood.
Warped also had some fantastic boss encounters, and the increased variety in gameplay elements over its predecessors and replay value make it stand out as one of the best games on the platform. Its visuals are also still pretty nice even now, especially considering how badly many games of this era have aged.
7: Spyro 2 Gateway to Glimmer
Crash wasn't the only 3D platformer I loved on Playstation, there was also the purple dragon, Spyro. While Crash Bandicoot was amazing for charm and level design, Spyro had an equal amount of charm, even more game variety and freedom of exploration and roaming across considerably sized worlds and levels.
From a gorgeous art style to endearing music, great bosses to delicious gem collecting, Spyro was addictive, and it was Spyro 2 Gateway to Glimmer, or Ripto's Rage in the U.S. that had the largest impact on me. Taking everything the original game did right and improving on it, Spyro 2 was the perfect sequel. It had a more fleshed out story, more characters, better scenarios and bigger production values.
Spyro 2 stands in my mind as one of the greats in the genre, and there have been few points in my gaming as satisfying as learning to swim and see Moneybags get what he richly deserved in Spyro 2.
6: Final Fantasy VII
Playstation did what Nintendo 64 never managed to do for me; it introduced me to the genre that would become my favourite type of game, the RPG. Final Fantasy VII was one of my first experiences with this type of game, and it really helped to broaden my view on what games could be. The combat system was truly great thanks to the materia mechanics.
A phenomenal soundtrack, what I thought was a great story at the time, and the whole sense of style and energy in Final Fantasy VII really made me fall in love with this gem. Having said that, I do not love it unconditionally as some people do, I think mainly because by the time I got around to it its visuals had already been outclassed by newer Playstation titles.
That doesn't stop this journey against the evil Shinra Corporation and Spehiroth from sticking out in my memories as a giant of gaming. Looking back on it, I don't see how the cross dressing scene and infiltrating and destroying a power generator killing scores of innocents in the process would make it so explicitly into a modern game, and for that alone FF VII should be held in regard.
5: Tekken 3
I loved fighting games after my experience on the Nintendo 64 with Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct and Mace, but Tekken 3 took things to a whole new level. For a few months, Tekken 3 took over my life. It was the first game I had on Playstation, coming with the console, and it fucking floored me with its intense level of finesse and refinement.
A stunning selection of characters with greatly different styles and tactics, a huge amount of things to learn, wonderful ending movies for the arcade mode, unlockable characters, Tekken Force, Tekken 3 outstripped all of its contemporary rivals and easily stands as one of my favourite Playstation games of all time.
No other game eve had me and my friends talking about learning martial arts of some sort for real, and though we never actually bothered to go through with anything of the sort, I think that exemplifies how much of an effect Tekken 3 had on me at the time. Too bad my copy was stolen, it still pains me.
4: Metal Gear Solid
Playstation introduced me to the notion that games can have significant and interesting stories, but nothing brought this home to me in quite the gripping way that Metal Gear Solid did when I first played it and journeyed through the Alaskan wastes of Shadow Moses.
This intense and damn gripping experience brought out the completionist in me, driving me to find everything, play on the highest difficulties and unravel all of this games amazing secrets.
Great level design, boss fights like nothing else at the time and a magical soundtrack combined with strong voice acting were enough to wow me and begin a love for this series that remains with me to the present day. Metal Gear Solid has some of the most memorable moments for me with my time on the Playstation platform. How could I ever forget frantically figuring out how to overcome Psycho Mantis or being tortured by Ocelot. Damn, what a great game, and my first stealth game as well.
3: Final Fantasy VIII
Speaking of stories that I loved, Final Fantasy VIII really got to me. I know that it is not commonly held as highly as VII, and some people even hate it for its controversial combat system and plot holes, but I just loved this game.
It had a cast of characters that I found much more relateable and interesting than the echo terrorists of VII, a wonderful setting and style that really set it apart, and one of my favourite soundtracks in any game. The graphics were also jaw-dropping for me at the time, and I still think they are the probably the best on the Playstation.
I liked the combat, junctioning abilities and spells for different effects, and the story was completely charming and interesting with some strong character development. I didn't really notice the plotholes as a kid, and while they are gaping, they are not nearly enough to ruin this school fantasy for me. Also, an 18 year old teacher with a whip... this game may have contributed to the onset of puberty for me...
2: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
I already talked about Ocarina of Time being my favourite N64 game, and for my monies worth Soul Reaver is the Ocarina of Time of the Playstation. Set in its own sprawling and mythical landscape, but with a much darker and grim tone than Ocarina, Soul Reaver was a seminal experience for me.
Lavish level design, with wonderful use of puzzles and game mechanics which fed directly into improving the puzzles were fantastic, but a rich variety of opponents was also nice. However, the true strength of Soul Reaver was the story and narrative elements, along with the absolutely stellAr voice acting and script. The struggle between Raziel and Kain was so improved by the brilliance of there respective voice actors, and a shoutout to the late Tony Jay as the Squid-like Elder God is needed as this juncture.
Soul Reaver was a game of vast ambition and big ideas, and its clear that a lot was cut out of the game by remnants of those elements, but what is left is still a greater amount of content than the vast majority of its peers at the time. Twilight may have killed the coolness of Vampires for a generation, but Soul Reaver is all I need to think of to make them interesting again for myself.
1: Final Fantasy IX
As you already know from this list, I love the three Playstation 1 FF games, but Final Fantasy IX is my favourite of the three, and my favourite game on the system. It is a colossal RPG experience, with the strongest sense of cohesion in the series, an irresistible charm, powerful narrative focus on its characters and their development through this story.
It has the most simplistic combat system of the series from 7 onwards, but I believe that this only added to its strengths. The soundtrack is Uematsu's best work in my view, and the entire pacing of the game is just pretty much perfect.
I will never forget the Tantalus Play "I Want to be your Canary", the revelations about Vivi, the Burmecia scene, the battle in the Iila Tree against the monster that I assumed fire would be effective against, the moment when Branhe unleashes Bahamut on Kuja, the list goes on. Final Fantasy is an incredible game, one of the most powerful experiences I have had while enjoying this pass time and my favourite title in this once great series.
So these are my favourite games from the Playstation, which seems appropriate in the days after Sony destroyed the anti-consumer policies of Microsoft at E3 2013. I will talk about my third home console in my next update, and the one that I spent the most time with: The Playstation 2. I hope this was an enjoyable read for anyone who looks at it.
We are finally at the start of a new generation of games, with the Wii U already being here and the PS4 and Xbox One on the way by years end. There is a lot of talk about legacy in the air, and with that in mind I have been thinking about what were my favourite games of this generation, and the impact that previous consoles I owned had on my tastes in games. With that in mind I thought I would write a little about them, starting with the first console I ever owned; the Nintendo 64. I got the N64 for Christmas 1997, and enjoyed a few dozen games on it over my time with it.
These a the 10 games that have the strongest standing in my memories of my first home console, and that I think of most fondly all this time later, as well as play from timt to time:
10: Mortal Kombat Trilogy
My love of fighting games kicked off on the N64, and while I loved many, particularly Killer Instinct Gold and Mace the Dark Age, but Mortal Kombat Trilogy stood head and shoulders above them for me. It was not only my favourite fighting game on the system, it was the first game I ever actually owned, and started my continued love of the Mortal Kombat series to this day.
A great selection of characters, easy to pull off but hard to master move-sets, and some good-hearted violence really brought this game into my imagination. The fantastic physicality of the character models and the environments, the speed of the fighting and the damn good soundtrack all make Mortal Kombat Trilogy a special fighting game that was actually better than its successors for many years.
I still remember taking down Motaro and Shao Kahn to this day, and defeating the double team before facing those bosses remains one of the toughest challenges in my personal gaming achievements. It was always great to get some friends over for a few matches, beating each other till the characters exploded into bones and mulch.
Rare created some outstanding games on the N64, and Banjo-Kazooie was one of their finest. Bringing together consummate 3d platforming with genuine charm, Banjo-Kazooie was was a must play experience. It has colour and vibrancy, actual humour with a smartly written script, and a strong amount of variety in its gameplay to keep things interesting for its duration.
Plenty of worlds with different settings, power-ups and unlockable moves, challenging boss fights, the ability to fart out eggs as a projectile attack, and even fly across what felt like vast levels at the time were all contributors to making Banjo-Kazooie a magical experience for me.
Taking on Gruntilda to save your young sister, meeting Mumbo Jumbo, and of course the running commentary of the squawking Kazooie are all things that stick in my head from this outstanding platformer, and easily the second best on the N64, which leads me to the one game that is probably a superior platformer.
8: Super Mario 64
Mario's Nintendo 64 debut was one of the most impactful games in history, and one of the best platformers I have played to this day. It had elegant and responsive controls that were a lot of fun to use. The levels were as varied as those of Banjo-Kazooie's, and also filled with colour and life.
The level design was among Nintendo's best in its history, not surpassed in my view until Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii. Great boss fights that felt like an achievement to overcome thanks to their scale, a great musical score and sense of pacing throughout, and a constant steam of fun unlockables made Super Mario 64 a fantastic experience on the N64.
7: Pokemon Stadium
I loved Pokemon when I was a kid, from the tv show and card game to the video games on the Game Boy Colour. When Pokem Stadium came out it blew away my expectations and became a massive time sink; finally I could see Pokemon battling it out in full scale battles on my tv screen.
The single player competitons of Stadium were good, but the mini-game collection was fantastic to play with friends, from the Lickitung eating contests to the Sandshrew digging races, they were just sublime.
However, what was best about Stadium was that you could not only play the Game Boy games via Stadium, but you could also transfer your handheld creatures into Stadium and battle against friends or the computer. It was an incredible experience for me, and cemented Pokemon Stadium as my favourite non-handheld Pokemon game ever since.
6: Lylat Wars
Lylat Wars, or Star Fox 64 in the U.S., was a game like no other for me. It was easy to pick up and play for a short period, but it also had a fun little storyline that felt great to experience time and again as a kid.
Divergent level paths depending on in-game action added huge replayability, and the use of both aerial and land sections really mixed things up. The multiplayer was not half bad against a friend and the bosses are just incredible; I will never forget the lava-mantis!
Lylat Wars also has some of the incredible ideas for its levels, including a battle on a snow world against Star Wolf and his minions, and an Independence day like battle against scores of enemy ships and a mothership. I hope this franchised is revived at some point by Nintendo.
5: Diddy Kong Racing
Forget Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing was where the real karting action was on the Nintendo 64. Great selection of characters, incredible variety in the track settings, hilarious and tactical pick-ups that are used to screw over rivals, and a state of the art single player story with bosses and trophy races all make Diddy Kong Racing one of my favourite games of all time.
Playing this is 4 player with friends, lashing around tracks in either cars, planes or boats, and shooting each other with missiles or oil spills are just some of what make Diddy Kong Racing spectacular. This was an example of the height of Rare's talent at level design, easily a match for anything that Nintendo itself could produce at the time.
4: GoldenEye 007
The game that shaped my expectations for shooting game's multiplayer offerings, and the single best work of Rare was GoldenEye 007. This was the first game were I shot an enemy in the balls and they reacted by actually holding their crotch.
A great singleplayer experience that actually took advantage of its license, GoldenEye was phenomenal thanks to its intelligent AI opponents, deep selection of weapons and gadgets, changing mission objectives based on difficulties and even inclusion of limited boss encounters. As I said at the top, GoldenEye was best when experienced in multiplayer deathmatches with friends. The amount of summer holiday evenings I spent shooting my neighbours in the toilet cubicles or locking each other in the cells of the Siberian facility were shocking, and I would change none of it.
3: Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
GoldenEye was not the only great shooter that the N64 had; there was also Turok 2 from Iguana and Acclaim. Turok 2 Seeds of Evil was a game of rampant ambition, with great visuals for its time, among the most interesting selection of weapons I have seen in any shooter to the present, and a plethora of enemies to face. From Dinosoids to Flesh Eaters, Blind Ones to Sentient insects and zombies, Seeds of Evil was damn impressive.
Enemies limbs would actually blow off their bodies when you shot them with a suitable weapon, the levels were huge and sprawling, with enough variety in the actual gameplay to keep things interesting even if the aesthetic was not radically changing after every stage, Turok 2 was a dark and brilliant experience. The cerebral bore, a gun that homed in and ripped out the juices of an enemies brain, remains my favourite weapon in gaming to this day. The story was also ambitious, playing off different factions against each other and really enriching the lore of the Turok setting. It was also the last Turok game that I really liked, following on from its fantastic predecessor which I want to mention.
2: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Just like its sequel, Dinosaur Hunter had incredible variety in its weapons and level settings. Tree-top villages and ancient temple ruins to deserts and cybernetic fortresses, the first Turok game was no slacker when it came to scale. The enemies were also fantastic, from the chilling cave-dwelling Leapers to the mighty Purlin, and that is without considering the boss fights; especially the cyborg Tyrannosaurus Rex!
Dinosaur Hunter also had a huge amount of hidden areas and items spread throughout its worlds, prompting me to actually sit down and draw maps to mark where I found them. There are literally 3 games that I have done that for, and Turok Dinosaur Hunter is one of them. Acclaim and Iguana crafted a classic with this title, and I think it deserves a bit more recognition than it receives.
1: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Yea it is the predictable number one for N64 favourites, but Ocarina of Time had a huge impact on me when I played it. I completely realised landscape to travel across was boggling at the time, but it also contained some incredibly memorable moments, moist poignant of which was the first time you ride across Hyrule Field with Epona; pure magic. The boss fights are also damn impressive, and the entire way the game actually plays is just plain fun and easy to get into, which in conjunction with the colourful and attractive visuals was an easy sell to the 8 year old me.
Ocarina of Time had lavish design in its Temples and dungeon sections, a beautiful soundtrack and a strength of character and identity that is extremely hard to capture in any medium, not just games. It is easily the pinnacle of the Legend Of Zelda series for me, Majora's mask felt like a shadow of Ocarina, and the other Zelda games that followed the N64 never attained the same level of excellence in my view.
So these are my favourite games from my first console, the N64. I will talk about the PS1 next, which I got the year after the N64 and got to experience a whole new selection of games and series that I didn't even know existed before hand.
MvC 3 is following the legacy left by its hugely popular predecessor, not an easy act to follow. I am unfamiliar with the series, having only briefly played mvc 2, so I went into mvc 3 without any vested interest or expectations with regards the franchise name. What I have played a lot of is Super Street Fighter 4, which I find an expertly crafted and entertaining game. Having played several hours of mvc 3 I can say that it pales in comparison to Capcom's fighting masterpiece. Thats not to say Marvel vs Capcom 3 is a bad game because its not, what it is is a fun and flashy game with a bones bare set of features and filled with missed opportunities. The game boasts a roster of 36 characters, but the chance of exploring the rich story content of the marvel cast and intermixing it with the Capcom characters has been completely missed. There is absolutely no story mode, and the endings for the characters in the arcade mode are short and downright awful. Its an insultingly bad way to present any kind of conclusion to a game. Having just played Mortal Kombat's fantastic story mode offering, Marvel vs Capcom is a joke in comparison.
Visually MvC 3 is impressive. Its cell shaded characters and back drops are eye catching and the use of colour is rich and varied. The character models themselves look good and the game has a great charm and character about its visuals courtesy of the cell shading. The back drops of the stages are generally good, with a battle in New York being the high point. However the actual number of stages is very limited, with a whopping 9 levels out of the box. The 2D plane which the game play happens in is a lovely stylistic feature, but the camera work does not take advantage of this at all, which is disappointing considering what Capcom achieved with Street Fighter 4. Still, the graphics and art style of Marvel vs Capcom are impressive and the game looks great and colourful.
The sound is serviceable, with some catchy tracks and suitable combat sounds. The use of powers and special moves sound fine, and the voicing for characters is suitably cheesy. There is however nothing particularly memorable or unique here in the sound department.
The controls for combat are based around three attack buttons and a special button scheme. Its a simple system which is easy to use upon playing the game as a beginner. The combat is very fast in this game. Characters dash across the screen and aerial combat seems to be a crucial component. You select a team of 3 fighters and tag between them during battle. You can combine attacks between your team members and this is all done at great speed and commonly results in the game looking CRAZY. The lack of 1v1 fights is unusual to me but it works well in this game. What doesnt work well is that many of the characters feel extremely similar. Button mashing is viable in the game, and actual tactics are a moot point from my experience with it. While I am certain that at a high level the game does require tactics, what I played of it was shallow and lacking in the strategy and pacing that I love on other fighting games. The game has a challenge and training mode but both of these are again very limited. The game does a very poor job of explaining how to play it. The single player arcade mode involves 6 stages of progressively harder 3-on-3 fights, and a boss battle against Galactus. While Galactus is an impressive last boss he is not exactly fun to fight against, and the arcade gets very repetitive fast. Every time the game is the same, the boss battle is the same, and without a story mode to buff it out the single player portion of mvc 3 is very shallow and a flimsy core for a game. Having said that, I found no technical problems with the game. It runs smoothly despite crazy combat, with a great frame rate.
The online of MvC 3 had a lot of complaints when the game released about the problems in the matchmaking, but I have not experienced a problem with it. The game must have been patched because the issue seems non-existent to me, and its a good sign and good support that Capcom patched their product. The problem with the online is that its just bare minimal content. Its just match making for ranked and player matches, but no replay channel and limited ability to have tournaments with friends. The character selection also affects the game, as while many of the characters are cool there are some odd additions to the roster. Capcom has also held back some great characters to be dlc, and are charging a miserable 400 Microsoft points for Jill and Shuma-Gorath individually! This is a disgrace and Capcom should be ashamed of this policy. While I have no problem with dlc as a whole, and have been a fan of it in general, taking core parts of the game out and charging outrageous prices for the content is, at best, a distasteful tactic and everyone should realise that this is how Capcom treats its valuable customers.
Marvel vs Capcom has fun and fast combat with solid fighting mechanics and a great presentation. What could have been a great game has been completely stunted by the lack of content and depth across all aspects of the game. The single player arcade is neutered by its lack of any semblance of a story mode, which is a huge missed opportunity. The character roster has clearly had characters held back from it to be dlc. The 9 stages which the game has to fight in amount to a pathetic offering compared to the games genre rivals. The online is even hampered by the lack of features that this game has. The graphics are great and the art style is lovely, but they cannot make up for the games many short comings. Marvel vs Capcom has the makings of greatness, but has been relegated to mediocrity by the content decisions of its makers.
Great looking game, with lovely graphics and cell shaded visuals
Use of colour gives the game great charm
Combat is fast and crazy, and the frame rate is solid throughout
Match making patch has greatly improved the process of getting a game
Mission and training modes are both short replicas of Street Fighter 4s modes
9 stages to fight on is a joke
Characters have clearly been held back from the roster to be used as DLC
Arcade mode is short and lacking, and no spectator mode
Mortal Kombat from NetherRealm Studios serves as a reboot of the series. Raiden has been defeated by Shao Kahn in the aftermath of Mortal Kombat Armageddon and sends a telepathic message back to his Mortal Kombat 1 self warning of future events in an attempt to change history. This allows key events to be altered in Mortal Kombat lore and this game serves as an amalgamation of mk 1-3. Mortal Kombat is the most packed, exciting and story heavy game in the mk franchise, and also the best. All the characters from the early games are back with new looks and moves as well as many of their old ones. The konquest mode of recent mk games has been replaced with a story mode which is easily the best in any fighting game I have ever seen. The story is based upon Raiden altering events to change the future, and this allows for some major events in the mortal kombat lore to be changed and new outcomes. Its a smart way to change the storyline while also rebooting the series. The story mode is lengthy and has a lot of cutscenes which merge seamlessly with the gameplay, preventing load screens breaking the immersion. The characters are well voiced, and despite the story being a simplistic battle between good and evil the way in which its told makes it very interesting and fun. You play as numerous characters in the story in a chapter based format. The story concludes in a great way and leaves NetherRealm with options as to where to take the tale next.
The graphics in this game are very impressive and visually pleasing. Its back to a 2D plane, allowing for hugely impressive backgrounds with brilliant set pieces in them. Characters and textures are far more detailed than they have been before, and the lighting in the game is done extremely well. The shadows cast in a room as the fights progress, the special moves, the movement of the characters and the arenas all look fantastic. Similarly the sound is great. All the characters are voiced surprisingly well, and the ambient sound of arenas really impressed me. Depending on the arena you are in, the voices of characters will bounce around the room in a different way based on the make up of the area, its a small but impressive detail. The whole game looks slick and the characters look shiny and attractive to watch destroy each other.
Besides the story mode, the game has the traditional arcade ladder, the krypt which is filled to the hilt with unlockables, and an impressive online set of features. There is also the challenge tower, which is a vast series of challenges and rewards. The game play itself has changed to be more similar to the uppercut heavy and combo friendly gameplay of the early games while maintaining the style of later games. The 2D plane makes the fighting much more tactical than recent entries in the series, allowing the timing of combos and sweeps and the balance of special moves determine the winner.
The game emphasises an offensive approach to the game, and projectile attacks are much more dangerous in the 2D plane. As you fight, you build up a super meter which allows you to unleash devastating and savage x-ray moves which break bones and do huge damage. This same bar can be used to increase the damage of your special attacks, and it is this balance which greatly deepens the combat and makes the game interesting. Online, the game has rooms which you can join and participate in king of the hill mode. This allows players to join a cue and watch the fights as they progress. The winner stays on and the loser goes to the back of the line. Viewers can rate the winner, granting respect points in a nice feature which is easily open to abuse.
From what I have played so far the online has been extremely laggy which is a shame as the game itself is fast and fun. The fatalities in this game are seriously violent and bloody. Limbs are torn, flesh is lost and people die in horrible ways, as it should be. The game play feels smooth and deep in subtle ways. The special moves are easy to pull off, making the game accessible to starting players, but true mastery of the combat is in the timing and the combos. The character roster is varied and strong, getting rid of most of the unpopular characters that were introduced in the latest entries in the series while bringing back the original core characters of the first trilogy in the series. Mortal Kombat is really fun to play, and is a breath of fresh air into a genre and a series that I feared were in serious stagnation.
The presentation and design in this game is refined. Each character has multiple finishers and costumes. The fighters have been well balanced against each other, though some have rapidly become deadly online in the hands of players who know how to use them. The special moves of the characters are easy to do, but difficult to time to maximise your advantage. Mechanically, the game has a refined and fast fighting system in which smart use of your abilities and juggle combos are king. There is also a tag mode in the game which allows you to tactically swap between your 2 chosen characters at opportune moments. The game is pretty tough, and some combos do seem open to abuse by certain characters [ I am looking at you Scorpion and Smoke], but the boss characters are ridiculous. Goro and Shao Kahn in particular are aggressively cheap and difficult to beat as there moves do huge damage and they have larger health bars. Despite this, its extremely satisfying to beat them and they should be difficult to beat. The game is perfect for playing with friends, especially online where there is a ready made tournament set up in the king of the hill matches for you to participate in, provided the lag doesn't kill the festivities.
Mortal Kombat is a fantastic fighting game with a vast array of unlockables and modes to enjoy and play. The game has the best story mode in a fighting game ever, and the best backgrounds in a fighting game I have seen. There is plenty of fan service in this game, including nods to legendary glitches from the early games, and amusing events in the stages where you fight. The game holds nothing back in terms of its violence, with some cringe worthy fatalities. The online has been laggy for me, and even locked up once, but hopefully that will be patched shortly. The bosses are filthy move spammers, but provide a real challenge. The story is fun, changes the story in a smart way and is lengthy. The only things I can fault Mortal Kombat for is the online issues and the ability to abuse certain combos in a truly gross way. I love this game for its feeling of freshness and accessibility, its lengthy and unexpectedly strong story mode and for its return to the series roots, blood soaked as they are. This game has already taken many hours of my time, and will be taking many more. If your in anyway a fan of fighting games then buy Mortal Kombat, and even if your not give it a rent and see what you think.
Fast and savage combat on a 2D plane
Brilliantly detailed stage backgrounds with a night and day mechanic
Lighting and textures look great
Character selection is varied with truly different characters and strategies available
Fantastic story mode with seamless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay
Loads of unlockables
The violence has been raised to an insane level, with persistent damage